Listening to Young Ugandans Reveals 4 Key Insights about Sex

By Nargis Shirazi Baguma, Youth Communications Coordinator, PACE Uganda

In August 2016, with an investment from the Pfizer Foundation, PACE, PSI’s network member in Uganda, gathered 13 young people (ages 15-24) from various backgrounds and communities to discuss their concerns about the sexual and reproductive health of youth in their communities. The group participated in a creative process inspired by human-centered design, where solutions are conceived by engaging with those that the problem affects.

While first cautious about sharing their opinions, the adolescents and young adults ultimately trusted the  safe space this process created and claimed it as their own, sharing their thoughts in small groups.

As a result, the adults on the PACE team confirmed a lot of what the literature tells us about the challenges of offering sexual and reproductive health services to young people, while gleaning insight into some of the specific ways these challenges play out in the Ugandan context.

  1. There is no such thing as a “typical youth.” Interventions should be adaptable enough to serve all sorts of young people and their needs, rather than targeting a stereotype of all youth. There are married youth, pregnant youth, youth in school, youth out of school, HIV-positive youth, sexually active youth and young people involved in transactional sex, among countless others. Interventions should be tailored to work with youth just as they are and ready to use the native and colloquial language that they speak.
  2. Can’t we make this fun? Yeah, this is serious stuff, but young people are energetic and want to have fun! Sexual and reproductive health programs should be made interesting and fun so that young people pay attention and respond to calls to action. Health services should have information that appeals to young people, such as creatively informative videos, posters, magazines and exciting programs that help young people seek out services and also share experiences.
  3. Myths might as well be truths. The majority of young people make decisions based on what they think they know about a specific sexual behavior. For example, some adolescents and young adults believe that if a girl jumps or squats immediately after having unprotected sex, she can prevent pregnancy. Some believe that if a young man carries condoms he will repel women, so it’s best not to carry condoms. Unfortunately, in the absence of correct information, rumor and tall tales become the truth. Even when correct information is available, in Uganda, the majority of written information is in English and some youth cannot read. All adolescents and young adults need valid sources of information with clear descriptions and illustrations they can understand.
  4. Close, but not too close! Access to health facilities is an important piece of the Adolescent Health puzzle, but putting services in a clinic doesn’t mean that they are “accessible.” A health center can be either too far to get to or too near, as some youth fear that they will be seen by family members if they go to a health center in their community. Some youth prefer private health centers, but lack the means to pay for them. Some must travel from an island to the mainland to access services. Organizations must get creative about extending services to young people. This includes outreach like household visits, community-based models, and subsidizing costs for private health centers.

Hearing it directly from young people brought the data to life and inspired the team to reimagine service models accordingly. Continuing to work closely with youth, PACE will build prototypes to address these four insights and “test drive” the ideas with Ugandan youth.

Banner photo credit: Vanessa Vick