It’s no crime to want honest information about your body and your health. But if Poland’s ruling party has its way, it may be illegal to provide the answers. Talking about sex in Poland is already taboo and access to contraceptives, let alone abortion, is severely limited in the country. A new bill in parliament would go even further. Educators, teachers and health professionals could risk imprisonment for giving young people the facts about contraception or safe sex.
Despite the challenging context, Ponton, a group of some 30 volunteers from age 18 to 40, is committed to working with and for young people, to foster their psychosexual development and to ensure that they have access to knowledge and to a safe space where they can realise their full potential.
Ponton provides sexuality education and counseling for young people in one of the most restrictive, and increasingly hostile, environments in Europe. Ponton teaches about sexual health, contraceptives and STIs to young people in public schools, providing crucial information that is not otherwise available to them.
From classrooms to Instagram
Sexuality education may be under attack from the religious right, but young people are keen to hear what Ponton has to say. A new booklet recently written by Ponton volunteers, based on the newest research available, covers basics about sexuality, contraception, STIs and the like. The booklet has proved wildly popular.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ponton has also ramped up its online outreach. The group is increasingly active on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram and is using social media to generate discussions that would have normally been held in classrooms. Ponton recently asked its followers for stories about their first sexual experiences, purposefully using phrases like ‘sexual debut’ instead of ‘losing your virginity’. Ponton intentionally uses language that is both inclusive and positive. The group aims to counter the negative and scary narratives about sexuality commonly used by religious groups in Poland.
The group gets lots of questions from people worried about a possible pregnancy. It’s no wonder. Stigma and falsehoods about sexuality are common fare. Ponton volunteers also hear from people who are dealing with violence or considering suicide. Ponton puts them in touch with specialists who can help. The group recently assisted a person who was the victim of digital sexual abuse.
As the group’s work shifts online, Ponton volunteers increasingly face threats on social media. The group has to contend with both ignorance and active hostility. Even before the pandemic, government regulation and opposition from some school administrators meant a decline in requests for Ponton to speak at schools. Right-wing critics even published a how-to guide for parents to restrict young people’s access to information about sexuality. Emotional and financial support from Mama Cash has been really important to Ponton. The group benefits from knowing that Mama Cash and its supporters are standing with them.