Balancing the scales: Talk about sex or watch your child die of AIDS

 

Every time the topic of HIV and AIDS pops up, what immediately springs to mind is the situation in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the pandemic continues to wreak havoc.

Those of us in the region are well aware of this devastating situation, especially in our own countries, where thousands of people have died of AIDS while thousands are living with HIV.

Despite major breakthroughs in battling the pandemic, with declining infections, HIV and AIDS remains the biggest health challenge in the region that reportedly kills around 1.2 million people each year.

Many people are coping with HIV, thanks to available but expensive drugs. Moreover, the risk of transmission from mother-to-child has been reduced to just one percent by new birthing practices. Therefore, due to these major strides in medical research, there is much lower risk of death as a result of AIDS than there once was.

Hence, the new attitude among many that HIV and AIDS is ‘not a big deal’ anymore. This is the feeling that with available drugs, we should fear HIV much less, unlike when it was first discovered.

But I am not too sure about this new macho attitude towards HIV and AIDS. Despite major achievements in medical research, HIV is still a big deal. It remains a big deal particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, as long as there are inhibitions towards HIV and AIDS.

Cultural restrictions and the discomfort we feel talking about sexuality and solving related problems are some of the many contributing factors to stigma associated with HIV and AIDS.

Talking to anyone about sex remains a very big problem in our society. You can come across people that are totally uninhibited when it comes to the subject of sex, but the majority have to be well acquainted if they have to engage in sex talk.

Even myself, who has been writing about HIV and AIDS as well as gender issues for few years, I can openly talk about anything at any time but when it comes to sex-related topics, I have to tread carefully.

Talking about anything sexual in a direct way is taboo. Even indirect sex talk through euphemisms or sexually suggestive language is frowned upon.

The question remains, why we still shy away from sex talk? Despite advancement in education, why are we still constrained by our traditions and cultural norms that treat sex as a taboo?

We all aware how of HIV spread from one person to another person. For those are still not aware HIV and AIDS is spread through behaviours that often take place in private, such as through unprotected sex (sex without a condom) and drug injecting with shared needles.

It can also spread from a mother that has the HIV virus to her child during pregnancy, labour, or through breast-feeding.

When a person becomes infected with HIV, it can take up to 10 years before there are any signs of illness.

The invisibility of HIV allows some people to question its existence. But HIV is real, and it is important to protect oneself, as everyone is at risk and the best way to do it is to talk openly about it, either with your partner, you sister/brother or your own child.

Therefore, we have to openly talk about HIV and AIDS and make sure that everyone understands the danger of unprotected sex, and the responsibility they have to protect themselves and their partners.

The silence and stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS must be broken and replaced by openness, good communication.

Writing for The Body, an online HIV and AIDS resource website, Shalini Eddens, noted that few people want to talk about how to make sex safe and fun. Quoting her at length, Eddens wrote that:

“Sex has always been a topic that people shy away from talking about, whether HIV+ or negative. Few people want to talk about how to make sex safe and fun. I've often heard positive women tell me. Everyone thinks that because I am HIV+ I don't need or want to have sex. That is so far from the truth. Sex is an important part of life and an activity that is good for our mental, spiritual and physical health.

“But to protect those we love and ourselves, we've got to do it safely. This brief article is dedicated to those of you who want to take pleasures in being with your partner(s) … and protect each other.

“I've often heard positive women tell me, ‘Everyone thinks that because I am HIV+ I don't need or want to have sex.’” That is so far from the truth.

Sex is an important part of life and an activity that is good for our mental, spiritual and physical health. But to protect those we love and ourselves, we've got to do it safely.

“This is about you and your body. No one is going to protect your body as well as you. Communication is key and if your partner is not ready to talk with you about safe sex, then maybe he/she is not ready for sex.

“Talk with other positive women in your community and see what has worked and not worked for them. Ask your doctor or case manager. More importantly, protecting yourself will help you stay healthy and happy longer, so play it safe!”

Therefore, people like Shalini Eddens are encouraging us to play our roles in empowering young people to protect themselves through information and a supportive social environment that reduces their vulnerability to infection.

By talking more openly about sexual issues, we can help to break down the barriers around the topic of sex.

There are many organisations that do prevention and education work and they use many different methods like pamphlets, billboards, radio, workshops, drama, talks and so on and I really salute them. So, it’s up to those people that refuse to talk about sex openly and feel it is embarrassing to weigh the scales and decide which is more embarrassing, talking about sex or watching their children die of AIDS.

June 2014
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