A conversation about sex made me contemplate a few harsh truths about society – and myself.

I passed a group of teenage girls on my way to the corner supermarket today. I don’t normally eavesdrop on conversations, but they weren’t exactly whispering and it was difficult to ignore. And I figured that if they’d wanted privacy, they would’ve chosen another venue. The curb is not exactly the place for secrets. The topic that caught my attention? A possible pregnancy and their ideas about how to deal with it.

There were four girls. Two brunettes and two blondes. They couldn’t have been more than 16 years old. Brunette #1, tearful and anxious, was obviously the one facing the dilemma. Brunette #2 was sitting next to her, holding her hand, and offering expletive-laden insults about the “bastard” responsible for her current predicament. “Once you know for sure, will you tell him?” Brunette #2 asked. “I dunno, it wasn’t anything special… It was just fucking, you know,” Brunette #1 replied.

This was the snippet of their conversation that I caught in the 20m leading to the corner, and in the 20m from there to the entrance of the store. I was trying to appear nonchalant as I walked by, but my mouth fell open at Brunette #1’s refrain.

I won’t pretend to understand today’s young people. I was a teenager 12 years ago, and a lot has changed since then. But this girl’s comments about the potential result of an evidently meaningless sexual encounter made me wonder about so many things… What the hell is going on in the minds of our adolescents? Where is their respect for themselves? Where is their respect for their bodies? And why, with South Africa’s pervasive educational campaigns about HIV and Aids, are they still engaging in risky sex?

As I walked around the store, grabbing groceries and mulling over Brunette #1’s situation, I found myself wanting to scream… For her ignorance or naivete or whatever had led her to believe that sex without protection has no consequences. According to the 2009/2010 global statistics from UNAIDS, about 33 million people are living with HIV. I don’t think that, more than two decades down the line, we can afford to have the “it won’t happen to me” mentality about this disease – or any STD, for that matter.

Pushing my trolley up and down the aisles, I became angrier and angrier at the world. Angry at the parents who don’t educate their children about sex. Angry at the teachers who shy away from informative debate in the classroom. Angry at the men and women who don’t take responsibility for themselves and their actions. And finally, angry at myself.

I’d heard a secret that had probably been eating away at this young woman for days, perhaps even weeks. And what did I do? I walked away. I pretended I didn’t hear her confession to her friends. I had an internal debate about something that wasn’t even happening to me. The shame came in waves. Who was I to judge? Maybe she’d chosen a public spot because she was hoping someone would hear her… Maybe she was counting on it – and counting on a helping hand or a voice of reason.

By the time I reached the cashier, I’d made up my mind. The milk could go sour and the warm bread could sweat, because I was going to stop and talk to Brunette #1. With an open mind and an open heart, I hoped. Maybe that’s what she needed. I marched out of the store with purpose. I marched around the corner with determination. And then I retreated to my house – because she and her friends were nowhere to be found.

The title of this post is borrowed from the lyrics of Keep Yourself Warm by Frightened Rabbit.


Janine Papendorf likes coffee, chocolate and wine. Not necessarily in that order. She’s married to a nerdy biker and they’re raising Cape Town’s cleverest child. When she’s not building Lego castles or watching old movies, Janine likes to send words into cyberspace. She’s a freelance writer and content strategist based in South Africa’s beautiful Mother City. Witness her obsession with pink flowers on Instagram, or contact her to collaborate on a project.


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