13 January 2016

Ethiopia: 'Eating Banana With Its Cover' - Misconceptions About Condoms

Photo: Nastasya Tay/IPS
File photo.

Ethiopia is a conservative society, where open discussion about sex is rare, so it comes as no surprise that the younger generation find it hard to talk about condoms.

Misrak (28) from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, remembers the first time she heard about condoms was while she was at junior secondary school. Her first reaction was "Ewww!" when she thought about the feel of it touching her body. It took a while for her mind to accept condoms as a means of protection with no harm at all.

This is the case for many young Ethiopians when thinking about using condoms, at least for the first time. I educate young people about using condoms and, in my own personal experience it is always hard to break the issue of the day's topic with the audience.

According to Ethiopia's Country Progress Report 2014,* only 15.5 percent of men and 47 percent of women who had more than one sexual partner in the past twelve months reported using a condom the last time they had sex.

Factors like whether people come from an urban or rural background and their religious beliefs also influence perception of condoms and can make it harder for me to communicate on the issue. Even young people like Misrak, who grew up in a city, sometimes find it hard to broach the subject.

Sex and satisfaction

Misconceptions about condoms also play a significant role in young people's reluctance to use them.

During one education session, a college girl said firmly that she would not want to use a male condom during sex. When I asked her why, she said: "Because you don't want to eat a banana with its cover."

The thought that satisfaction will decrease while having sex with a condom is one of the reasons some people give for not using one. Another is the issue of trust.

Misrak remembers finding it hard to convince her boyfriend to use a condom. She told me that he left her in the bedroom, just because she asked him to put it on. "How couldn't you trust me?" was his last word before he left the room. But his action didn't make her feel bad, because she knew how long it took to be OK with using condoms herself.

"I don't want to be pregnant, at least until I get married. I feel safer while using a [male] condom," she says.

When I ask: "How about using a female condom? Have you thought about that?" She shows me that "Ewwww" face she had when she first heard about male condoms in junior high school.

The look on people's faces when I take out the condom from the packet and put it on the penile model can be funny, but it is a serious issue which shows the level of work remaining. Imagine how bad it is for a youngster to put him or herself at risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, just because they don't know how to use condom.

Hundreds of millions of condoms

It is undeniable that condoms play a crucial role in preventing the spread of HIV in Ethiopia. In a recent interview with a Federal HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control office representative, I learnt that the condom distribution trend has reached a new high, with 203 million condoms distributed in 2015. In 2007/2008 it was about 70 million.

Nonetheless Ethiopia still needs to work on promoting condom use as one of the sustainable approaches for preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

According to UNAIDS: "Even though new HIV infections declined by 41 percent between 2000 and 2014, sub-Saharan Africa still accounts for 66 percent of the global total of new HIV infections. In 2014, there were an estimated 1.4 million new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa."

For a country like Ethiopia, which is fighting hard to put an end to HIV by 2030, it is vital to continue to promote condoms and address the taboos and misconceptions people have about using them.

*Ethiopia Demographic Health Survey 2011, quoted in Ethiopia Country Progress Report 2014 (page 20)


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