Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

'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

Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

'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

Article excerpt

Introduction

Over the last two decades increasing attention has been paid to young people's sexual practices, particularly young women's. This has been largely promoted in the contexts of HIV and reported high rates of gender-based violence (GBV) and has given rise to a proliferation of governmental response, civil society measures and academic research. Much of this research has foregrounded young women's vulnerability to unwanted, coercive and unsafe heterosexual intimacy, and a battery of research has focused on how gender normative roles and practices contribute to social problems of the high rates of HIV, unwanted early pregnancy and gender-based violence (Harrison, 2008; Wood, Lambert & Jewkes, 2007; 2008). Some authors have questioned the way in which young women have been set up as inevitable victims in this body of work and associated practices, arguing that the bulk of the literature appears to reproduce the very gender stereotypes that are seen as 'the problem' (Shefer, in press). It has similarly been argued that underlying much of this research is a regulatory imperative to control and discipline young people's sexualities and desires, in particular young women. And indeed there is little literature in which women's positive sexuality is represented; notions of young women's pleasure and desire or a discourse articulating this has been relatively silenced both in public and scholarly discourse. Similarly, while attempts to work with young people around HIV/AIDS have become more nuanced, the dominant response has historically been informed by disciplinary and constraining frameworks, most clearly illustrated by the ABC approach (Epstein, Morrell, Moletsane & Unterhalter, 2004; Lesko, 2010; Mitchell & Smith, 2001).

Perhaps the strongest illustration of the social surveillance of young women's sexuality is provided by responses to young women who become pregnant and parent in school. Teenage pregnancy remains an emotive issue in South Africa, constructed in the popular media as well as in much of the scientific literature (Macleod, 2001; 2011) as essentially problematic, 'disastrous' and 'damaging', not only for the young women, but also for broader society. At the core of this popular representation of teenage pregnancy is a range of normative assumptions about what young people should or should not do with respect to sexuality and reproduction, infused by dominant moral, cultural and ideological positions on pregnancy, parenting and families. Emerging out of recent empirical research conducted with both teachers and learners at school is a continued stigmatisation and negative judgement of young women who get pregnant and parent at school, illustrating an underlying discourse of denial and repression of young women's sexual agency (see, for example, Bhana, Clowes, Morrell & Shefer, 2008; Bhana, Morrell, Shefer & Ngabaza, 2010; Ngabaza, 2011; Nkani & Bhana, 2010; Shefer, Bhana & Morrell, 2013). Macleod (2011) has shown how both public and scholarly responses to teenage pregnancy are framed in a discourse of 'moral degeneration' with the teenage mother represented as a threat to the social order, both symptom and cause of social problems and decline. The association of young women's displays of sexual agency and activity with moral degeneration also illuminates the wider discourse in which female sexuality, especially young female sexuality, is silenced, denied and viewed as morally reprehensible.

Given the historical repression of sexuality in the history of education in South Africa and the current challenges of the HIV epidemic, sexuality education as a part of Life Orientation (LO) has been viewed as a key terrain where sexuality, gender and HIV might be addressed (Francis, 2013). Yet, there is some concern about the impact and imperatives of such programmes, with existing research illustrating how these educational spaces could rather serve to further a disciplinary and punitive response to young people, and particularly young women's sexuality (Bhana et al. …

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