By Kristen Birch
April the first was filled with mischief this year when Durex took to social media to introduce its newest condom aimed primarily at South Africans: boerewors flavour. Most caught on, but South African health minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s promise to introduce free, coloured and flavoured condoms was anything but a joke.
In response to the latest national HIV prevalence, incidence and behavioural survey conducted in 2012 by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) Motsoaledi has concluded the nation is suffering from “condom fatigue” because the “standard issue Choice condoms just aren’t cool enough”.
Only 36.2% of respondents 15 years and older, who were sexually active during the previous 12 months, had used a condom the last time they had had sex. Almost 40% of the respondents believed that they were ‘definitely not going to contract HIV’ and 39.6% that they were ‘probably not going to get HIV’, while only 26.8% had accurate knowledge about the sexual transmission and prevention of HIV.
Reasons for respondents believing that they would not contract HIV ranged from, not having sex, to using condoms, to trusting their partner. 2.1% said it was because they did not have sex with prostitutes, 2.5% said it was because God protected them while 1.4% said it was because their ancestors protected them.
It is estimated that 399 million male Choice condoms have been distributed annually by the government, but in 2012 condom use amongst all age groups had decreased to levels similar to those found in 2005. The survey recommended that the country begin promoting condoms in a new way because previous prevention efforts are no longer receiving the amount of attention that they did a decade ago. It was assumed that the decline of condom use may be because of access to ARV treatment.
The new condoms will be aimed at universities and has been welcomed by the Higher Education HIV/AIDS Programme (HEAIDS). Director, Ramneek Ahluwalia said an effort would need to be made to spark students’ interest in these new condoms.
“It is our duty to ask what will enable students and youth in general to protect themselves, and if blue or strawberry-flavoured condoms are the means to it, then we must do it,” he said.
Students however are not impressed.
Many choose to buy their own condoms because they do not trust the effectiveness of government-issued condoms, or they prefer the ribbed and ultra-thin textures that presumably make sex more pleasurable.
Rhodes University honours student; Samuel* says Choice condoms are perceived as being of low-quality because they are free, and that on many occasions his female partner has refused to have sex if he only has Choice condoms available. However, Samuel* said that he would definitely make use of the new flavoured condoms because he usually buys these from the store.
“I like them because they smell better,” he said.
The department of health is still in the process of selecting a provider of the new condoms so Choice may not even be on the table.
Thirteen pregnancies were reported at the Rhodes Health Care Centre within the space of two months so there is no doubt students are still having unprotected sex. Sanele Ntshingana, the president of Rhodes University’s Student HIV/AIDS Resistance Campaign (SHARC) said that their initiative aims to “get people to know about new and safe methods for preventing the virus”, such as these new condoms.
“I’m sure that this move will help curb student’s complacency towards condom use,” Ntshingana said, “The problem with the current colourful and flavoured condoms are that they are expensive and students cannot afford them, so this move sounds like a good one.”
Indian Health minister, Dr Harsh Vardhan has had a vastly different response to the promotion of condoms. He said that a change needs to be made in the way that awareness of HIV/AIDS is promoted. “The thrust of the AIDS campaign should not only be on the use of condoms. This sends the wrong message that you can have any kind of illicit sexual relationship, but as long as you’re using a condom, it’s fine,” he said during a telephone interview with New York Times.
Just a few days later, it was discovered that Dr Vardhan had proposed on his personal website in the “Educational Vision for Delhi (School)” for “So-called “sex education” to be banned”.
Worldwide audiences have responded to Dr Vardhan’s suggestions critically and East India Comedy, a comedy company that posts videos to YouTube has even gone so far in creating a video that mocks his plans to remove sex education from school curriculum. The video immediately went viral and has so far been viewed over one and a half million times.
When questioned, Dr Vardhan said that his statement about condoms had been misunderstood. “Condoms promise safe sex, but the safest sex is through faithfulness to one’s partner,” he said. “Prevention is always better than cure.” Through the use of “misleading headlines” Dr Vardhan said it had been implied that he had misgivings on the safety of using condoms or that he has a moral issue with condoms.
“For the past two decades, I have been stressing the need for safe sex using a combination of condoms and discipline which is in line with the Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom (ABC) line of UNAIDS,” he said.
The HSRC survey had the same idea of reviving the basic ABC prevention intervention which may be more effective than producing nectarine-flavoured condoms…
Dr Vardhan took a preference to encouraging fidelity to single partners and the promotion of integrity of sexual relationships between a husband and a wife which is “a part of Indian culture”. However, no further explanation has been given for his hope to ban sex education in schools.
Rhodes SHARC president Ntshingana said, “This is repression by the authority in the name of tradition.”, “India is one of the countries ravaged by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and in most cases, countries that are most affected by this virus are so because of a lack of HIV/AIDS education.”
Kingswood College biology and life orientation teacher, Michael Stead described how it is important to not separate the idea of abstinence from condom use, despite them being viewed as polar opposites.
“The moral foundation of the school encourages the message of abstinence from a religious belief, but I try and separate this from religion. Not having any form of sexual contact prevents 100% STIs from being spread, and teenage pregnancies from occurring, he said, “However, we live in an age where a flood of information (not all reliable) is available 100% of the time, and it’s a fact that some teenagers will experiment, so we have to teach safe sex practices, including condom use, in addition to abstinence, and trust that, with the help of their parents, that they would make the correct choices.”
Overall, it was found that 10.7% of respondents aged 15–24 years reported having had sex for the first time before the age of 15 years demonstrating that sex education is imperative for school learners. Stead stressed that students need to be taught from an early but also appropriate age.
“People fear that if we teach sex ed., then this encourages early and risky sexual behaviour, but this has not been shown in the numerous studies done in this area,” he said.
“We have to include the parents in this,” Stead said. “An open relationship with their kids regarding sex is vital for all the information being available to them without judgment. This is key, because as soon as kids experience judgment they stop talking, and it’s in the silence that risky behaviour takes place.”
*Names have been changed for the students’privacy.