Remember the recent virus coined as the SOE? A heavy cough taxing yuh chest for weeks before recovery? Then you catch it again from somebody who didn’t get the memo to stay home? Less than a minute with their germs, and the next morning you’re home, cussing that your victorious work-free day was won this way.
Before I draw the parallel of the SOE and risky sexual practice, let me vouch that I am not perfect. I’ve even had recent conversations with friends who admitted that despite awareness of the risks, they were having unprotected sex.
It could be with the guy you met last week, your boyfriend of six years who you swear not horning yuh, or your wife of two years whose ex was horning her. Many of us take risks with sex. And trust me, like the SOE, it only takes one ‘sneeze’ until you’re saying prayers, losing sleep, and latching onto every second of good memory you have from the bliss that brought you to this point. Bliss so good that you forgot your first name, forgot to ask yourself how many people this person slept with before you, and, of course, forgot to demand a condom.
Choices. We all have to make them. Why not make them wisely?
Sex is one of the most powerful and enjoyable practices in all of human civilization. That’s why it’s so hard to heed good advice.
I mean, when things are heated, when you feel the blood drain from your head to your ankles, and parts of you are starting to dance for joy – the last thing you might think of is stopping to grab a condom.
Hopefully, by this time, you would have already thought about this – and so much so that you won’t dismiss the voice in your head as easily. But this depends on how much you really know about the risks you are about to take.
Insufficient education is a leading reason we experience difficulty in dramatically decreasing the numbers of people who contract HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Despite increased campaigns for safe sex, unplanned pregnancies are also still prominent. But all the campaigns and advertising in the world cannot change people’s behaviour considerably, if they know little about the in-depth aspects of risk. A ‘Don’t Do It!’ campaign alone won’t hold much weight over this very powerful and wonderful experience called sex.
Globally, the Caribbean rates second highest in the world for HIV, according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Research has also shown that STIs are on a rampant increase, with Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) causing alarm in the medical fraternity. HPV, which is the leading cause of cervical cancer in women, is the most common transmitted infection among the sexually active.
Look holistically at the space within which we operate, and the complex levels of hypocrisy and mixed messages that are prominent in our culture, our education systems, our media, religion, and in our homes. We do not speak plainly or proactively enough about sex. We are the birthplace of Carnival, of freeing up yourself, and of sexiness, but we don’t really TALK about sex.
It might shock parents of young children that the average age of sexual awareness and experimentation is six years old, according to US-based research. And, in Trinidad and Tobago, we’ve all heard stories of primary school children experimenting, something, which I’m sure NGOs in the field of sexual and reproductive rights could confirm.
Parents often avoid speaking to their children about sex, so they learn from others their age, from those with the same level of inexperience and knowledge. They are more knowledgeable now about the sexual act, but not about the risks of irresponsible sexual behaviour.
This is a dangerous combination. From a young age, we know to jump and wine and feel nice, but we don’t know simple facts.
Some STIs are transmitted without sex, such as through skin contact of affected areas – hence why many people who have protected sex are diagnosed with herpes, even after using a condom. And you won’t always see evidence, as skin and bodily fluids can be affected without glaring physical signs. Worse yet if you get your loving in the dark.
Education you ask? We don’t have a comprehensive age-appropriate syllabus in the primary and secondary school system that deals with sex and sexuality. I can hear people gasping now, maybe even sucking their teeth. But this lack of communication means that young people will not get accurate information BEFORE they experiment with each other.
And what about abstinence? Abstinence is sometimes the best alternative for some, but it is not a realistic or progressive approach, when promoted in isolation.
All personal and religious feelings aside, we need to come to terms with the fact that sex is a natural part of the human experience, and that, like any other experience, it should be understood with practical knowledge and reason.
Adults are at risk too. You and your sexual partner should get tested before having sex – oral included. You may think this ‘cock-blocker’ in the early stages of a sexual relationship is too difficult a topic to insist upon, but then you are not regarding your sexual health and life as important enough to rank higher than pride.
If by now your head is hurting you, it is because sex is a serious thing, not a fly-by-night, consequence-free experience. You will get away sometimes, but not all of the time.
It might be a bother to think about all of these things beforehand, but know it’s less stress than thinking about it, when already neck deep in pressure.
No one and nothing is worth intentionally compromising your sexual well being. Yes it’s intentional. Continued ignorance and denial is an intentional disregard of yourself and your partner. After all, you may be the one with something to transmit, but because of your coveted ignorance you do not know it as yet.
Unless you will only have sex with this person you are taking risks with today for the rest of your life (and they eh horn yuh), you may be denying yourself the opportunity to have healthy sexual relationships in the future – or at least without all the drama and stress.
Another dangerous attitude is ‘whatever happen go happen yes’, the ‘what is to is must is’ outlook. This philosophy may work for daily life, for staying positive under duress, but not when it comes to circumstances where you make deliberate decisions concerning your actions.
So yes, get tested today if you are sexually active. Yes, even if you are in a stable relationship, or if you absolutely trust your partner and their knowledge of their current health. Why? Because some of these STIs can be cured, if detected early, and HIV (STI) can be controlled using anti-retroviral drugs before becoming the deadly AIDS.
Carnival is coming. Time to throw all your worries away, and like yuhself. Make some decisions before you hit the road. Be prepared with barrier contraceptive methods like condoms.
If you’re drinking, be with people who can take you home safely, and when you feel your head ‘getting too bad’, sip some water.
Maybe just ‘free up’ without having new sexual encounters during those two days or the weeks before. Maybe ‘hook up’ but ‘link up’ after the season, and after your trip to the lab.
Most of us cannot choose how we will die. But don’t you want a chance to choose how you will live?
It is possible you will slip or take a risk again, even if only once. Hopefully, the more you know, and the more you research, may mean the more you will do that less and less. So protect your good stuff, and only put it where you know you’re safe. After all you wouldn’t sit on a public pavement without your underwear. So let’s avoid a state of emergency if we can, and keep the worries and stress away.
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