‘And I have been told that there is nothing fun about having sex while you are still in high school’: dominant discourses on women’s sexual practices and desires in Life Orientation programmes at school

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Shefer, Tamara
Ngabaza, Sisa
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Faculty of Education, University of the Free State
Young women’s sexuality is a contested terrain in multiple ways in contemporary South Africa. A growing body of work in the context of HIV and gender-based violence illustrates how young women find it challenging to negotiate safe and equitable sexual relationships with men, and are often the victims of coercive sex, unwanted early pregnancies and HIV. On the other hand, young women’s sexuality is also stigmatised and responded to in punitive terms in school or community contexts, as is evident in research on teenage pregnancy and parenting in schools. Within both these bodies of work, women’s own narratives are missing, as well as their agency and a positive discourse on female sexuality. Female desires are absent in heteronormative practices and ideologies, as pointed out by feminist researchers internationally. A body of work on young women who parent at school has shown that a key component of the moralistic response to women’s sexuality hinges on the way in which childhood, adolescence and adulthood are popularly understood, together with dominant notions of masculinity and femininity within heteronormative and middle-class notions of family. Such discourses are also salient in the responses and understandings of sexuality education in Life Orientation, particularly the way in which young women are represented. This paper draws from qualitative research conducted with teachers, school authorities and young people on sexuality education in the Life Orientation programme at schools in the Western and Eastern Cape. Key findings reiterate disciplinary responses to young women’s sexuality, often framed within ‘danger’ and ‘damage’ discourses that foreground the denial of young women’s sexual desire and practices within a framework of protection, regulation and discipline in order to avoid promised punishments of being sexually active.
Life Orientation, Sexuality education, HIV, Gender-based violence, Young women’s sexuality, Danger, Pleasure
Shefer, T., & Ngabaza, S. (2015). 'And I have been told that there is nothing fun about having sex while you are still in high school': dominant discourses on women's sexual practices and desires in Life Orientation programmes at school. Perspectives in Education: Life Orientation sexuality education in South Africa: gendered norms, justice and transformation, 33(2), 63-76.