Are abstinence from sex before marriage and fidelity within marriage realistic options in the battle against HIV/AIDS? Is it possible for a normal, healthy person to resist sexual urges until marriage and then maintain a commitment to faithful, monogamous marriage? And, seemingly even more incredible by today’s standards, can an entire nation dramatically reduce its AIDS incidence rates largely as a result of abstinence before marriage and fidelity within marriage?
Uganda appears to have done just that and has become the “success story”, the model for other countries in the world to emulate in the fight against AIDS. The country was one of the worst hit by the disease in the 1980’s but recent surveys have documented a decrease in the prevalence of HIV infection (amongst pregnant women in Kampala, it dropped from 29% in 1992 to 14% in 1998). By 2001, WHO had put the HIV prevalence at 5% of the adult population. This decline was mainly through the efforts of President Yoweri Musevini and his wife to stem the epidemic.
In 1991, the president noted, “I have been emphasizing a return to our time-tested cultural practices that emphasized fidelity and condemned premarital and extramarital sex….” At the United Nations Child Summit in 2002, Uganda’s First Lady bluntly asserted: “The young person who (is) trained to be disciplined will, in the final analysis, survive better than the one who has been instructed to wear a piece of rubber and continue with ‘business as usual.'” Little wonder then, that from the experience garnered from his country, President Museveni, during this year’s 15th International AIDS Conference in Thailand, told the delegates that sexual abstinence, not condom use, was the message governments should spread.
Some people dismiss abstinence and fidelity to one’s spouse as unrealistic modes of living in these times. They even look at these issues as religious impositions which have to be shed in this era of “unbridled freedom”. The impression they want to put forward is that “everybody is doing it” (which is not truly the case). This, in turn, pressurizes young people to engage in pre-marital sex in order not to feel out of place among their peers.
Abstinence and chastity are not impossible concepts to practice. It may be difficult to maintain such a lifestyle, bearing in mind the unhealthy influence that some books, magazines, television programmes, films and pornography on the internet have on peoples’ behaviour. However, nothing good comes easy. The habit of self-control, once acquired, can lead one to channel his/her energies into activities that are more productive in life. Teenagers can discipline themselves over matters that they are firmly convinced are of benefit to them (it’s not difficult to see young men going to gymnasiums in order to develop their muscles). The same can apply if they are given logical reasons to practice self-discipline with regards to sex. It is quite ironical to tell young people that they cannot live self-control and abstinence and, at the same time, expect them to practice self-control when it comes to using the condom correctly.
According to a four-year study, released in the April 2003 issue of the Journal, Adolescent And Family Health, “sexual abstinence — not condom use — is the principal reason for the decline in the birth and pregnancy rates to teenage girls. In fact, abstinence accounted for 100 percent of the decline in the teen birth-rate and 67 percent of the decline in the pregnancy rate to single teens”. If in America, of all places, the trend is more towards abstinence, then what are we doing here in Nigeria by promoting condom use and not conduct change?
A lifetime of happiness can be (and has been, on countless occasions) shattered by misplaced dependence on a condom. I have helped to run a clinic which was involved in clinical trials for a drug meant for HIV/AIDS patients. The stories the patients narrated were heart-wrenching and filled with regrets. Your life is most precious. Not just to you alone; your family, your friends and the society have very high expectations of you. Do not cut your dreams short. Be safe and don’t try to play safe.
Dr. Anthony Odoh resides in Spain, and could be reached with firstname.lastname@example.org