This past week I read countless articles about the high rate of AIDS infection in Sub Saharan Africa and the increase in orphans due to the aids pandemic. What I find astounding is that out of the 22 million people living with AIDS and HIV, 12 million of those infected are women and 1.8 million are children (statistics taken from 2007 data). It has forced me to think about relations between men and women, whether the path we are travelling as society is sustainable, productive and beneficial to the progress and prosperity of our continent. It has also prompted me to ask how we as men and women have contributed to the degradation of our society, which is evident in the high number of people that are HIV positive. For those who are thinking that this will be a male bashing article I assure you that I will be objective about this topic.
Societies around the world are evolving and redefining value systems. It is interesting to see the transformation that our society is currently undergoing: families are smaller and there is an increase in single parent households. Women are expressing their sexual needs and desires and more are engaging in risky sexual behaviour. High profile men are caught with their ‘pants down’, and infidelity in marriage (both men and women) is now seen as part and parcel of marriage and is accepted. So what does this all mean for us as Africans? How do we protect ourselves from the dangers that such behaviour carries? It is quite obvious that campaigns that encourage the use of condoms and abstinence are ineffective. The use of religion to deter people from engaging in risky sexual behaviour has proven to be futile. Young children and teenagers are engaging in sex at an alarmingly young age and teenage pregnancy is now the rule rather than the exception. What I find mind boggling is that those responsible for the fight against Aids have not picked up that their efforts are in vain.
What will it take to reduce the Aids pandemic in Africa? We are not addressing the root cause of high HIV infection rates. One of the root causes of HIV infection is alcohol abuse and participating in risky sexual behaviour under its influence. Granted, it is not the only cause of the pandemic, it is a major one. According to research, “The Effect of alcohol on High Risk Sexual Behaviour of Students in Mafikeng ” ( A City in South Africa) conducted by Phillip Mabille there is a high correlation between alcohol abuse and risky sexual behaviour. Furthermore, establishments such as bars, clubs and taverns encourage risky sexual behaviour amongst young girls and older men, many of whom are married. There are a growing number of young people who have been treated for STD’s like Chlamydia, Genital warts, Herpes, Gonorrhoea, Hepatitis and Syphilis.
There seems to be an ‘I do not care’ and ‘It is my life’ attitude. Some of these STD’s, if treated too late will lead to infertility in both men and women. It is important that you get tested and get treatment for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases if you are having unprotected sex.
I wanted to understand why a rational person would place themselves in compromising and potentially life threatening situations. I had the opportunity to speak to someone who has had numerous risky sexual encounters, the majority of which were under the influence of alcohol. I will share some parts of my discussion with him to give you more insight from a young, educated 30-something African man’s perspective. I believe that there are many like him, but few will be as bold and as open on this issue as he was. You know who you are, thank you for sharing and allowing me to share your story with others. I will use initials BB (Not his real initials).
Kate Nkansa (KN): I am working on an article for a weekly blog I write for. The subject is sex and the risky behaviour men and women participate in, especially under the influence of alcohol.
BB: Ooh boy you are on your own. That is a hectic subject. My mind is going back to a dangerous time in my life.
KN: We have all been guilty of some form of risky alcohol induced sexual behaviour at some point in our lives.
BB: Some people engage in risky sexual behaviour daily. I do not want to relive my encounters. It does not make me feel good.
KN: Nobody wants to address this issue, that is the main problem. People engage in risky behaviour and pretend that it never happened or that it doesn’t count.
BB: <he shakes his head>
KN: Could you offer me some insight and perspective about it?
BB: Like the reason I engaged in such behaviour?
BB: It ranged from not giving a damn to being just plain horny and the need to score some sexual points, just for the sake of it.
KN: So it is an ‘ego’ thing? Did you use condoms?
BB: Well, our egos are important to us. The number of girls we sleep with matters to us. Condoms are foreign materials and in the heat of the moment…say by fluke, you realise you could actually get ‘laid’, going to find a condom is not always the best option because she might change her mind. She could just dress up and leave.
KN: With hindsight knowing the risks you were placing yourself and your multiple sexual partners under, would you do it again? You are now a married man, do you have the same temptations or have you buried that part of your life and embraced your new role as a father and husband?
BB: The scary part is as a married man I would still take part in risky sexual behaviour. The best way to avoid such situations is to avoid places like bars and nightclubs that serve alcohol that encourage such behaviour.
KN: That is scary, what would stop you from continuing on this path?
BB: Probably death. As long, as I am alive, and am in that ‘space’ and fail to reason I may engage in risky behaviour. I wish they could find a damn cure for AIDS. We have travelled to the moon and back and still, we die for doing what is natural. I do not want to think like this. Sometimes I look back and wonder how I did not contract the deadly virus. Was it pure luck? Then the excuse of men not easily becoming infected comes up. It does not make sense. If it is that prevalent and easy to catch, then how did I not contract it? This is why many men think they can get away with such behaviour.
KN: It makes sense, from my research more women than men are living with the virus in Sub Saharan Africa. There are 22 million people living with HIV of which 12 million are women and 1.8 million are children. You are extremely lucky that you have not contracted HIV. The prevalence of HIV in South Africa is one of the highest in the world.
BB: Men continue to risk contracting HIV through risky sexual behaviour because they believe that the likelihood of contracting the virus is minimal. Surprisingly educated men are the ones who actually talk about how difficult it is to catch HIV. They keep going back for more unprotected sex. My colleagues and I talk about the risks we are taking and the following day we are in bed with a stranger,without any protection. These days, I avoid anything that will even make me want to put on a condom. I ‘eat’ at home for the mere fact that I do not want to compromise my marriage and family…I have been caught cheating before. I have used my lifeline already.
KN: Would mindsets change if someone in your circle of friends contracted the virus?
BB: Perhaps…But I doubt it…
I am sure getting a woman’s perspective on this matter would be equally eye opening. On the 1st of December, we will commemorate World Aids Day. Let us all reflect on how our behaviour can affect and in some instances infect others. AIDS is one of the reasons why many of the countries on our continent will fail to reach the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations. We all have a role to play in stopping this pandemic. In conclusion, I leave you with the words of Confucius, China’s greatest teacher, philosopher and political theorist. He said, “To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order. To put the nation in order, we must put the family in order. To put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life. To cultivate our personal life we must first set our hearts right.”