research article

Conversations about sex need multi-level approaches

CIH/CISMAC researcher, Joar Svanemyr has published about his work with the RISE project in Zambia. The paper is also presented in the UK edition of the Conversation.


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Joar Svanemyr is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Bergen (UiB), also working at the Christian Michelsen Institute. He is associated with CIH and CISMAC, and works at the Global health anthropology research group, where he is involved in CISMAC’s RISE project.

Svanemyr recently published an article in Culture Health & Sexuality, an International Journal for Research, Intervention and Care, entitled, “Adolescent pregnancy and social norms in Zambia”. He published a more popular version of the results in the UK edition of the Conversation: “Zambian teens can’t talk about sex or contraception, even with their friends”.

We found that adolescents were operating in an environment where they couldn’t admit to others that they were sexually active. There wasn’t much space for open, judgement-free communication with friends and parents about sexual matters. So the teens didn’t know about contraception or how to avoid pregnancies – the only message they received was “abstinence”.

To solve this problem, interventions will be needed at multiple levels: with adolescents, families, communities, and in society generally. Young people need access to comprehensive sexuality education and life skills training. Parents, teacher, health workers and community leaders need to be involved in encouraging open discussions about sexuality and contraception.