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Good sex, good marriage, less HIV

By Vision Reporter

Added 13th April 2010 03:00 AM

THE new Uganda AIDS Commission advertisements and the buzz about “side dishes” are deeply encouraging. With more people getting infected than in previous years, HIV prevention is being reinvigorated not a minute too soon.

THE new Uganda AIDS Commission advertisements and the buzz about “side dishes” are deeply encouraging. With more people getting infected than in previous years, HIV prevention is being reinvigorated not a minute too soon.

By Catharine Watson

THE new Uganda AIDS Commission advertisements and the buzz about “side dishes” are deeply encouraging. With more people getting infected than in previous years, HIV prevention is being reinvigorated not a minute too soon.

The new HIV prevention messages focus largely on the dangers of extra marital partners because infidelity is a driver of HIV. But the conversation could be made even more exciting by talking about how to get to faithfulness. What we desperately need is a gracious, gentle and optimistic national discussion about how to sustain a good marriage.

Straight Talk’s experience is that many ordinary people have ways to make marriage nicer, including asking for forgiveness (men and women), talking after the children are asleep, using kind words, and being attuned to each other’s sexual desires. Our Parent Talk radio shows highlight these so others can try them. Listeners, particularly men, write to say that they are talking more and quarrelling less with their partners and that their home is now developing.

But many married couples are painfully frustrated. “My wife doesn’t know anything totally about sexual intercourse, sleeps like a dead body,” wrote one listener. “When a man comes home from drinking, he just tells the woman to turn and begins playing when she is dry,” wrote a woman. “The next day he will say that this woman is old, let me go for young girls.”

Women in polygamous marriages talk of sexual neglect. “My husband has two wives and gives me every basic need but does not sleep one night in my house,” wrote one wife. “A man with many wives causes a woman to have sex outside their marriage because by the time he reaches you, you will have suffered,” wrote another. A national campaign on marriage could recognise women as sexual beings. It could also talk sensitively about polygamy, a complex subject usually glossed over in HIV spheres.

Men complain that women are too taken up with children. “Every time I want to touch her, there is a baby hanging off her,” said one. Here the campaign could suggest that a good marriage uses family planning, which in turn helps good sex.

A campaign on good marriage could explain that sometimes a man may have less sex than he would like but that this trade off is worth it to maintain family harmony and avoid acquiring or transmitting HIV. Many men think falsely that going without sex will harm their bodies, that semen will accumulate. Neither is true. But the campaign would need to assuage men’s fears.

Finally, a campaign on good marriage could explain that sex changes over a lifetime. Often we get problems because reality does not meet our expectations. Women may have less interest in sex in late pregnancy, after birth and menopause. Men who are reassured of this may be less likely to take a “side dish”. Both men and women need a better understanding of how their body works. Sex when we are older is not like sex when we are just married. And let us not over-sexualize men: they can want less sex sometimes too.

Campaigns against infidelity are essential. But there is also a risk that they normalise it. This creates an unwarranted feeling of gloom. Extra marital sex is common: 37% of married men had a non-marital partner in 2004-5. But “most” Ugandan men are not having sex outside the home. (The figure for Ugandan females was even lower in 2004-5 at 4%.) Ugandans have less early sex and fewer lifetime sexual partners than people in the US or UK.

It is simplistic to say that good sex equals a good marriage equals less infidelity. Many people try their best at sex yet their partner is still unfaithful. Also many couples are faithful but HIV is present from a previous relationship or because one partner was born with it.

Nevertheless, a campaign that addresses how to make long-term sexual relationships rewarding might be the push that is needed to push HIV down again and out of marriage.

Putting the sex back into HIV can be done sensitively and in every venue — on the radio, in HIV counseling and testing sites, in antenatal clinics, among those of us not yet infected and those of us who are, in leaflets, in churches. If churches can promote good sex in marriage, surely HIV workers — whose remit it is to address a sexually transmitted infection — can also do so. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The writer is a nurse and the president of Straight Talk Foundation

Good sex, good marriage, less HIV

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