PANCAP News-in the caribbean

Your vagina, your rules

by Shamkoe Pilé

Women have been urged to negotiate condom use at the start of their relationships.

Furthermore, Behavioural Change Communications Specialist at the National HIV Commission, Alexis Nurse, has advised women to “take condom use seriously; discuss sex with their partners and to be involved with only one person at a time.”

Nurse was addressing participants of the Tek Care of Yourself Workshop, organised by the Internal HIV Education Committee of the Barbados Government Information Service, in collaboration with the Urban Development Commission.

The outreach initiative, which was held on January 17, was designed to sensitise single, unemployed and dependent women about HIV and AIDS. According to the Government of Barbados National Strategic Plan for HIV Prevention and Control 2008-2013, this at-risk group is characterised by uneven power relationships between men and women, hence the need for more tailored prevention approaches.

The communications specialist told the women that negotiating condom use could either be a difficult or an easy task based on the partners involved. “Everyone is not in the same position, so everyone does not have the same level of confidence speaking about condoms. Some women are completely dependent on their spouse and are not in a position to make demands, while others have more independence,” she said.

She stressed that the beginning of a relationship was the best time to lay down the rules for sexual intercourse, because usually, it was at this time during the courtship that both persons were regarded as equals.

“Start the way you intend to continue. If you give in and have unprotected sex once with your partner, you have closed the door. It then becomes more difficult to negotiate for condom use because you will hear, ‘We already do it skin to skin; I know what you feel like already’, and other reasons advocating against condoms in the relationship,” she said.

The HIV communications specialist added that accusations of infidelity commonly occurred when one partner sought to introduce condoms when the couple was already practicing unprotected sex. She told the participants that typical responses they might hear included, “Why would you want to use condoms now? That mean you got a man, or you don’t trust me.”

This, she reasoned, made trying to get one’s partner to change his mind more complicated and reiterated that the start of the relationship was “really the best time to negotiate condom use” but further emphasised that regardless of the stage of the relationship, safe sex was the best course of action.

Noting that HIV was found in infectious quantities in blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk, Nurse explained that the main route of transmission in Barbados was through unprotected sex with an infected person.

“It doesn’t matter if it is vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse or oral sex, because as long as you are exposed to infected bodily fluids you stand a chance of contracting the disease. That is why it is important to practise safe sex,” she maintained.

Acknowledging that HIV was not as easily transmitted as other sexually transmitted infections, she however, pointed out, that the HIV virus could be caught easier than other STIs.

Nurse added that having unprotected sex with multiple partners was one of the most dangerous things anyone could do, since this practice increased the chances of contracting the disease.

“A person is most infectious during the first three weeks of him or her contracting the disease. The body has a very high viral load in the system and during this time, that person will not test positive. So, there is a one to twenty-five [per cent] chance of contracting HIV if you sleep with an infected person during this stage, and if you are having sex with multiple persons, imagine how many people will be infected,” she said.

“Start at the beginning and talk about sex before it happens [because] you are going to sleep with this person; you will be doing the most intimate things with this person,” she reiterated.

Reasoning that communication was vital to protecting oneself, she advised the women not to be open to risky sexual relations, especially “if you can’t open your mouth and discuss sex with that person”.

She also stressed: “The reality of the situation is that sometimes when we fall in lust, love or like, it could take away [or prohibit] our ability to negotiate. But, you have to be able to come to a point where you ask yourself, ‘Is the feeling that I am having now, worth the risk that I am taking with my health?’ and that is when you are going to make the appropriate decision.”

Urging women to have this discussion when “heads are rationale”, she said: “We know what happens with feelings, one thing leads to another and then you ask yourself, ‘How did that happen?’ I didn’t even plan to do that…”

Moreover, Nurse warned that STIs such as Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and Syphilis were severe, with some leading to blindness, mental illness and death.

Consequently, Nurse urged: “Use a condom! You have to be able to protect yourself at all times.”

Source: http://www.barbadostoday.bb