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Breaking taboos

Vigilence organisation aims to break the taboo around discussing sexual health in the church 

2006 Available in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish

Photo: Marcus Perkins

From: Sexual health – Footsteps 69

Opening up the conversation about sexual issues

Vigilance is a Christian organisation working in Burkina Faso. Breaking the taboo around discussing sexual health is a challenge we would like to bring into the heart of the church. Talking openly about sexual issues is vital in the response to HIV and AIDS. In Burkina Faso, 85% of people living with HIV have contracted the virus through sexual relationships, and the situation is similar in many other countries. This high rate of HIV infection is mostly caused by people’s lack of understanding about HIV and sexual health.

Often the church does not like to talk openly about sexual issues, but HIV is found within the church too, so we cannot afford to ignore it. It is the duty of those who are engaged in the response to the AIDS pandemic to speak out, to raise awareness and reduce stigma.

Photo: Marcus Perkins

Photo: Marcus Perkins


Our inspiration is the Bible, which teaches us that sexual relationships are a gift from God, and that sex was designed for our benefit and enjoyment. Sex enables reproduction and, therefore, the survival of the human race. Yet when we look around, we see that sex is also spreading death and disease.


One way of breaking taboos in the response to AIDS is through relationship counselling. Vigilance organises training workshops on how to have a healthy and happy marriage. Communication can often be a problem between couples, particularly around taboo subjects like sex. In our workshops we encourage couples to talk to each other more openly about all issues, including sex. It is important that the opinions and feelings of both the man and the woman are respected within a relationship. Good relationships between parents will provide a model for their children.

Our workshops begin with a general session to share ideas and teaching on marriage. This is followed by discussion groups. This small-group setting helps give people the confidence to speak out. The facilitator encourages couples to listen to and respect each other. Discussion topics include:

  • expectations of marriage
  • traditional gender roles
  • enjoying a good married relationship.

Where appropriate, specific disagreements between couples are shared and discussed in the group.

At the end of one workshop, a woman spoke of how her husband had begun to show her more respect and had asked her forgiveness for the first time ever. One man said: ‘Since the workshop, our married life has been transformed.’

Children’s sexual education in our culture remains the responsibility of their parents. However, often parents just don’t know how to begin and they are too embarrassed to talk about the details. To address this problem we invite parents, with their children, to take part in a conference about sexual issues. We provide them with information and biblical principles about sexual matters. By raising a taboo subject publicly, we provide an opportunity for parents and children to talk more openly about sex. This can help prevent the lack of knowledge which is costing the lives of many young people in our country.

Problems and solutions

The greatest challenge is to motivate men to attend the couples’ seminars. In 2004, the women in one church decided to organise a couples’ seminar. They all invited their husbands, but out of 60 people attending the conference, only 12 were men. The men felt that talking about relationships was a ‘woman’s thing’. In 2006, the pastor of the same church organised another seminar for couples with our support. This time only two of the men invited did not attend and that was only because they could not get time off work. The men who attended the first seminar in 2004 had challenged the others, saying that they had been wrong not to go. In addition, the fact that this time the pastor sent out the invitations encouraged church members to attend.

Pastor Kouliga Michel Nikiema is Director of Vigilance.
04 BP 8276
Ouagadougou 04
Burkina Faso
[email protected]

Discussion questions

  • Are men and women treated differently in our community?
  • What roles or behaviour are typically expected of men / women?
  • How do these attitudes affect sexual health?
  • Do men and women have different sexual needs?
  • What role should a husband or wife have in teaching their children about sexual issues?
  • What rights do people have in marriage?

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