Florida Uzoaru: Let’s Talk About Sexual Health Safety
I am a 35-year-old married woman who religiously uses condoms. No, I do not use condoms because I suspect my husband of infidelity. Someone once asked me that, so I figured I might as well just come right out and say it, in case anyone else is wondering the same. My husband and I are both HIV negative, so we are not doing it to avoid infecting the other. If at this point, you are going, “why then will you use condoms with your own husband?” hang on a moment. Your question will be answered soon enough. Let me tell you a bit about my safety history, and how I got here …
Like many of us in Nigeria, I did not receive sex education from home – unless you count “don’t come back to this house with belle” as one. Back then (and even till now), parents didn’t talk to you about protecting yourself. I do remember a conversation I had with my mother when I was about ten. An advert for Right Time condoms was playing on TV, and I got curious about what it was. Mom said, and I quote, “it’s what men wear.” Wear where? She wouldn’t say. She quickly hushed me up and said I shouldn’t speak so loudly so my father doesn’t hear. Anyway, I suppose it’s no surprise that my first sexual experience was without any kind of protection. Then again, it was without a lot of things but let’s not go there. It wasn’t planned – certainly not by me. I had been infatuated with him forever. I was 16 going to 17, on my way to the university, and I had never had a boyfriend. I thought I was in love, but I quickly got over it before any real damage was done. Which was lucky for me – I could have very easily been standing here today, a teen mom.
My next relationship went better in the safety department, as did the ones that followed thereafter. I hadn’t yet learned to be assertive about sexual safety, but the men in my life were thankfully more health conscious. They always bought. And they had reserve supplies too, so nothing like running out. During the trust-building stage of the relationship, you know while you’re trying to confirm that your boyfriend isn’t also “torch-lighting” the privates of two or more other girls at the same time, condoms were a staple. But as it is with most couples, condom often took the backseat as we relaxed into the relationship. With this boyfriend I had one time, before we got to the stage of throwing caution to the wind, the condom burst. And that was how, at age 21, I came to use emergency contraceptive pill for the first time in my life…
So what happened was, I wasn’t sure if I was in my safe period or not. And I wasn’t going to take any chances. So there I was freaking absolutely out. To calm me, the boyfriend suggested he buys Postinor 2. This was the first time I was ever hearing about Postinor 2, but if it’s going to make it so I don’t have to worry about pregnancy, bring it on! He went to the chemist down the street, and fetched the magic pill. He bought only one tablet, and that’s what I took. I swear it wasn’t that long ago I learned that two tablets must be taken. So yeah, talk about being lucky again …
In all this time, I’d been using condoms to prevent pregnancy, never giving any thoughts to sexually transmitted infections (STI). And so it was that 2005 was my first ever STI test. I was being interviewed for a job. This was an NGO working with people living with HIV/AIDS. The interviewer suggested I find out my status, since I would be working with people who knew theirs. I wasn’t compelled to take the test or anything, but hey I wanted the job. Mind you, I’d been job-hunting for 6 months; plus I’d been reassured the result will would have no bearing in the outcome of the interview. If doing the test would seal the deal, I’d swallowed my fear and go for it. While waiting for my result to come out, I called my boyfriend at the time to tell him what was happening. With him, I’d had been taking more and more risk and doing the do – bareback. He needed to know what was up. Understandably, dude freaked out! He said he wasn’t ready. I asked if he’d prefer not to know the result, but I suppose curiosity kills a cat. Thankfully, result was negative. Phew!
The next eventful moment in my life was me preparing to get married, and being irrationally overcome with the fear that I can’t get pregnant. Ten years of being sexually active off and on, somehow my brain told me it couldn’t be normal that I have never had one mistake pregnancy. You know how women are always talking about ‘mistake babies’. Yeah, not me! Like clockwork, my period would appear every month – never more than a week late. I wasn’t even thinking about the lack of sexually transmitted infection, and patting myself in the back for achieving that. My stupid brain was thinking: how come I never got pregnant? That is how I carried myself to the hospital, to find out if everything was ok. The shock on the face of the doctor who saw me that day at the hospital said it all – she had never seen anything like me before. I insisted on the tests, and a clean bill of health later, I relaxed and got married. Four months afterwards, I had definitive proof that I had had nothing to worry about after all.
Having a baby brought with it a new type of paranoia. I wasn’t one of these women who enjoyed being pregnant; I couldn’t wait for my son to be born. And by the time he was 7 months and I had a scare; I dragged my husband to gynaecologist. It was a “I want birth control and I want it now!” situation. I was so scared of “mistake baby”, intrauterine device (IUD) was not enough. Sure IUDs provide 99% protection, but I was not going to take chances on that 1% – so condom it is! I was not going to mistakenly wind up pregnant again.
Once we started using condoms again, I found that I much preferred it. After all, I was more used to sex with condoms than without. This was my comfort zone. It was less messy too. Maybe because everything gets neatly packed away in the condom – and flushed down the toilet – I don’t have to worry about leaking, everything remains nice and clean down there. I became a condom convert.
Back in the days, I relied on the men in my life is buy the condoms. Not anymore. Now, when I am writing down my monthly shopping list, condom is in there. I know all the popular brands in Nigeria – and yes I have my favorites. I began to insist on condoms. And yes, I had to be bold enough to present my case to my husband. Eventually, I got him onboard. To anyone thinking, as I imagine someone is, what kind of husband doesn’t mind using condoms with his wife? The kind who understands condoms do not deprive him on pleasure, and that it’s really in the mind – once you stop minding, it won’t matter.
So yeah, I am a married woman who religiously uses condoms, and is not ashamed to admit it. I wish more married women will follow suit, especially those whose husbands are keeping a woman or two by the side. It is not enough to put condoms in his pocket. How do you know he’d use it? A friend said, and I quote, “women fear their husbands too much to make a demand for condoms. I mean, if they can’t even demand fidelity in the first place, how can they demand he use a condom?” I understand: it’s a matter of culture and a way of life one has been raised in. But the thing is, you shouldn’t allow someone play football with your health, while helplessly looking at them korokoro? You wan die? Being able to negotiate for safe sexual intimacy is a human right that all women have; becoming a Mrs shouldn’t rob anyone of that. And if you feel a little iffy about going to a shop to ask for condoms or any sexual health commodity, you’re the perfect customer for Sex In A Box.
Photo Credit: Purmar | Dreamstime.com