By Bunmi Sofola
SINCE I came back from the UK a couple of years ago, I have had dates with a string of successful, charming, university educated men from lawyers to bankers and showbiz men and, no matter how serious the relationship became, not one of them ever mentioned safe sex or used a condom without my insistence”, said Nina, in her late 20s and a fairly successful IT expert. “Which begs the question: in a city where unbridled hedonism is becoming the norm, what has happened to the AIDS conversation? There is a lack of awareness among young people, and the belief that ‘this won’t happen to me’. And saying STDs are something only dirty people get is unfortunately, a typical view which is scary, considering the sexual health record the country has.
“To get a glimpse into the Nigerian male’s head-in-the-sand attitude, I recently met a good banker friend in his 30s for drinks at his elitist club. Though he is successful and well educated, I found his views on safe sex alarming. According to him, If you move in the right circle, that type of thing just doesn’t happen. I don’t go out to sleazy beer parlours. I go to members’ clubs like the one I’ve invited you to, where you know two things about the members you meet: that the membership committee has approved them, and that they can afford to spend over a quarter of a million naira or more to belong. Otherwise, I tend to meet people at friend’s parties, so it’s not as if I’m picking up women in a randomly chosen bar’.
“Nigerian men also seem to associate condoms with illicit affairs more suitable to a one-night-stand than a proper girl-friend. “If a man carries condoms in his wallet here, women think: he’s obviously after a one- night-stand and does it a lot”, said one of the men I talked with. By that logic, not having the STD discussion implies a sense of trust and therefore greater intimacy. Unfortunately, the illusion of romance ends when the painful symptoms begin. One of my friends, a 32-year-old investments banker with a boyfriend who adores her, found out the hard way recently when he confronted her about the pain he was suddenly suffering. He had met her at an out-of-the-way fast food joint and said, ‘I have a sexually transmitted disease, and it can only have come from you since I haven’t slept with anyone else’. He hadn’t even been tested to confirm his suspicion but basically, he suggested that my friend was the whore of Babylon.
Meanwhile, her boyfriend became incommunicado—apparently he found declaring undying love less daunting than talking about his problem. It was several days before he was able to discuss the subject, by which time my friend turned out to have nothing nastier than trust!” Ask the average Nigerian man: have you ever been tested for STDs? And he would want to know why he would do that since he ‘d never had anything wrong with his sexual life all his life.
“I’ve pointed out gently to quite a few that many infections such as chlamydia (the most common and easily spread) can show no symptom for months or even years. I also realise that not only were Nigerian men completely unaware of the symptoms of chlamydia and gonorrhoea, but some of them never even believe they could ever get them!
“Our men obviously have a very prudent attitude towards sex that is riddled with hypocrisy. They all have often been bombarded with explicit imagery, yet fail to have open discussions about the basic facts of life or talk to the children about sex. We’ve got to discard our belief that safe sex and romance are mutually exclusive”.