(Longish post alert)
Last week, a girl in my gym, one of my friends, came in really sad. She’s a little wary of me because I am the oldest among all of them and she’s the youngest, and because I am a bit of a loner. But I could tell she was sad so I wanted to know what the problem was and I pushed her until she showed me a bbm conversation on her phone.
To begin from the origin, she had gone to see her boyfriend the weekend before, in his house. Of course as these things go one thing had led to another and they wanted to have sex. He searched but found no condom at home; they had sex anyway. The agreement was that she would buy the ‘morning-after’ drug when she left. She did not buy it that Saturday because she was not able to go to the pharmacy where she would be comfortable enough to request for that drug, she did not buy it on Sunday because the pharmacies did not open, so by Monday morning her boyfriend had gone ballistic! He sent her bbms asking why she deliberately wanted to become pregnant for him, that she better not become pregnant and she better not try anything stupid like this again. Different ways of saying the same thing, warning her not to be pregnant. She did take morning-after drugs in the form of injections on Monday, however.
When she showed me the messages and told me the story, naturally I was angry with the pompousity and callousness of the man. What an idiot, I said. To situate the story properly, this girl is about 21 or 22 and a university student. The man is 33 and a manager in a health-related firm. They are both muslim, so much so that the lady keeps her hair covered. I felt he should have exhibited more maturity and less selfishness. And taken some of the responsibility for the carelessness.
When I had gotten over my anger, however, I realised I needed to speak with this girl , heart-to-heart. I needed her to ask herself deep questions about why she was so unimportant to herself that she would have sexual relations outside a committed relationship without protection, why she could not buy and carry a condom, and why she did not understand the importance and value of her sexual health.
I am a woman’s woman; what a lot of people would refer to as a feminist. I love women issues, I love being a woman and I am particularly protective of women. Unapologetically. As a result of this, and because of my life experiences, I am painfully passionate about the emotional and physiological causes of transmission of HIV in women and the prevention of such. People who have read through my blog are aware of how I have traced a relationship between childhood sexual abuse, deeply engrained low self-esteem, promiscuity and the HIV infection in my life. While not every girl may have had such a dramatic childhood, most if not all girls growing up in Nigeria can relate with a nagging lack of self-esteem, an absence of sexual health education and an eagerness to please their (male) partner regardless of cultural,religious or personal misgivings.
Why would a girl in her twenties, so religious as to cover her head in public at all times, but ‘open-minded’ enough to have pre-marital sex, be too insecure to buy and carry around condoms? Why would a very pretty lady whom all the men ogle at the gym and on the streets place herself so low as to destroy her reproductive system and even her health? She might be a single lady but this is not limited to single ladies. I have spoken of married women who contracted HIV from their husbands but never found out until after the men died of AIDS complications. Of husbands/boyfriends who come regularly to my clinic for treatment but never tell their wives/girlfriends. And women who have done everything to hide their status from their family including involving in breastfeeding their newborns, not taking their drugs and having unprotected sex.
I know I am speaking plenty grammar but I am trying to get somewhere. Whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not HIV/ AIDS is nearer than we think. You might assume you are in a committed relationship but only God knows if you are the only one your partner is sleeping with. Even I get propositioned by married men, almost on a daily basis- I am a very pretty girl! What if I had a ‘fuck-the-world’ mentality, and decided to sleep with them? They transmit it to their wives, maybe other mistresses, those ones transmit to their boyfriends or children and it goes on and on. There is even a new strain now discovered in West Africa that kills within 5 years! This occurred due to reinfection: a person who already had the illness contacts it again from someone who has it as well, the viruses combine and form a more powerful strain! Just in case you didn’t know, even an HIV+ person should not sleep with someone similarly infected without protection!
On this World AIDS day, I want to reach out to all women out there who I am fortunate to have as readers. You are more than you give yourself credit for, protect that more. Here are some ways to do that:
1. Love yourself. Think of yourself as 100% worthy- of being loved well, of making YOUR OWN decision, of deciding not to do something if you don’t want to. Don’t let society, or peer pressure, or need or greed determine your future. Don’t.
2. Speak UP! Talk about sex. To your daughter, to your husband, to your boyfriend, to your sister, to your aunt to your friends. Ask questions about reproduction, ask what is in that pill that you take the morning after sex, what are its effects on your body? Ask for a condom! About the different types of condoms for different purposes- flavoured for oral sex, tingly for fiery sensation, ribbed for extra feeling, featherlite for the sensation of barely there, etc., don’t be afraid to talk about these things! Walk into a gynecologist’s office and ask or ask Google. Don’t depend on old wives’ tales’, don’t mind what people will think. Better to be ashamed than terminally ill.
3. Vow. Not to be the person through whom the HIV virus is spread. Get educated about HIV so you can say the right things, treat people the right way, and avoid infection.
The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is Getting To Zero: Zero new infections, Zero stigmatization. We can only do this if we change our minds, our thinking, our behaviours. HIV/AIDS is unfortunately a lifestyle disease, and more sexually transmitted than any other means, so it means tweaks to the way we live will change our risk of infection greatly. Let’s try to live like people with something to live for.
Light and love
(Follow me on twitter @joiede1)