27 November 2012

Uganda: Is Abstinence Such a Hard Thing to Do?

Abstinence is the most effective way of fighting HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancies. However, many young people are finding it exceedingly difficult to abstain. Consequently, the HIV/AIDS infection rates have shot up, writes Gloria Nakajubi and Moses Okuraja

Singer Morris Kirya recently made headlines in the leisure pages when he said he was still a virgin.

"I am still a virgin," he said in an intimate interview with Saturday Vision. "I am still a teenager and my mind has not yet gone there," he added.

And on social media, some of his female stalkers were asking if it is possible that a handsome man like him could possibly be a virgin.

Kirya is not alone. Joslyn who graduated recently, stunned her guests at the graduation party when she claimed that she was still a virgin, because while at campus, she had always been "too busy" to have sex. Some people booed. Others whispered: "She is lying!" "It is not possible!"

Sexual abstinence is defined as an act practised to prevent unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Despite its controversy, many people say it is not a hard thing to do.

Growing up, Pastor Martin Ssempa, a renowned abstinence crusader, says he had a very hard time abstaining.

"But I chose to stand my ground. I refused to masturbate or engage in anything to achieve sexual satisfaction until marriage," he says.

He says he productively used his time in sports, reading inspirational and motivational books and magazines and engaging in social discourses.

Pastor Ssempa noted that sex is pleasurable, exciting and it occupies the mind of most people. The young people especially have to deal with a lot of hormonal changes and are easily stimulated into sex, making abstinence a very hard choice to make.

Pastor Ssempa, however, notes that abstinence is a life skill that prepares one to be faithful even during marriage.

"The same skill one uses to abstain, is the same skill you need to abstain for example when away on a trip, workshop or studies. But if you cannot abstain before marriage then you may find it hard to always wait for your partner," Ssempa stresses.

Former ethics and intergrity minister, Dr Nsaba Buturo says sex is only planned in the mind. "Abstinence is the safest way to live, especially for the young and the unmarried, so why should it be hard to practice?" he asks.

Charlotte Mwesigye, an official with the International Network of Faith-based Organisations (INFOC) confesses that she has abstained for the last 17 years.She says it is about values such as self-control, esteem and high moral values.

Singer Samalie Matovu also agrees: "It is basically a personal decision not to have sex before marriage."

Why it is hard to abstain

According to Pastor Ssempa, there are many agencies that are encouraging young people to engage in sex and these go ahead to provide free condoms to the youth.

He also notes that the environment is so glaring. "There is all sorts of information on the internet, nude dances on the beaches and pornography everywhere, which stimulates sexual desire among the youth," he says.

Catherine Kimanje, the Mothers Union Co-ordinator at Namirembe Diocese, worries that a lot of young people often put themselves in very compromising situations that they find it very hard to escape the temptation of sex.

Such situations include hanging out till late with their boyfriends, peer pressure, drinking alcohol and the love of money, among others.

Indeed, one research among secondary school students in Kampala revealed shocking revelations on their sexual behaviour.

The study, conducted by the Makerere University School of Public Health, was done on students from S3 to S6 in Kampala schools between June and October 2010. A total of 3,434 randomly selected students from 54 schools participated in the survey funded by the US President's emergency plan for AIDS relief.

According to the findings, over a quarter of the respondents (28.8%) were sexually active. Equally disturbing is that one in every 50 female students had ever conceived, of which 21% had ever aborted while 16% suffered miscarriages.

Some of them were found to have had sex with their relatives. They said the reason for sex was money and other favours they were receiving from their partners. But others said they were forced by their partners. In most cases, it was because it happened at a time when they were probably alone in their homes.

INFOC's Mwesigye cautions that abstinence campaigns need to be re-evaluated to target all stakeholders, especially the young parents, to impart positive morals in their children. Some parents, she argues, have slackened in the way they bring up their children.

Mwesigye also says there is need to regulate the media and formulate policies that punish reckless sex if one is caught.

"Abstinence is not only for the young and unmarried, but also for the married, especially if one of the partners becomes unfaithful and poses a risk to the faithful partner,' she argues.

Why I find it hard to abstain

Several young people say it is hard to abstain. John Kibego, a presenter on one local radio station, says there are "loose" girls everywhere who dress in skimpy dresses. "Even if you jokingly ask her out, she comes running after you," says Kibego.

Joseph Bayige, a legal officer in private practice, says: "Sex is nature. You cannot fight nature."

Joshua Mugerwa, a young fashion designer in Kampala, finds nothing special in abstaining when he loves his girlfriend. "Sex is an expression of love," he says.

Experts speak out

Fred Ouma, an editor at Straight Talk publication, says the rate at which the abstainers are giving up is on the rise. Straight Talk targets youth between nine and 24 years. It advocates for abstinence among young people in order to curb HIV.

Ouma says they try to urge the young people to live responsibly. But, he notes that it remains a challenge due to the peer pressure and impatience.

Ouma also cautions the youth to draw a life balance sheet and start to measure the costs and benefits of each choice they make in life.

"For the young people in school, it should be books first. If you realise that sex before the right time is costly, then why not abstain?" he asks.

Gusto Byamugisha, a psychologist and counsellor notes that while abstinence is not an easy choice, it is much harder for those who have been married.

He, however, advises that keeping away from pornography and all information that can incite sexual urge and keeping one's mind busy can be a great distraction.

"When you want the fire to burn out you deny it firewood and the same thing applies to sex urge. Deny it information or company that excites you to engage in sex and you will be safe," says Byamugisha.

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