Jamila Ramadhan left her boyfriend of five years after she found out he was cheating on her. Her boyfriend had contracted a sexually transmitted disease and had accused Jamila of infecting him.
“That evening, he came to my place and handed me a pack of antibiotics. He had pus oozing out of his private parts and he accused me of infecting him with a venereal disease,” the 20-year-old first year university student sadly recalls.
Since they did not practise safe sex, Jamila thought it was a good idea to take the medicine in case she too had contracted the disease.
“I did not go for testing because I was naïve. After all, I did not have any sign of the disease. I just took the antibiotics but I was sure if I had the disease, I must have contracted it from him. He was the only man I was seeing at the time,” says Jamila.
The majority of sexual partners engage in unprotected sex, regardless of the risks involved. Most use condoms at the first encounter and stop after they have been together for a while.
A doctor at Amana District Hospital who preferred anonymity as he is not the hospital’s spokesperson says they receive many patients with STIs. According to him, the numbers are high because apart from patients who seek service at public health facilities, others go to private facilities while many others opt for self-medication. He says because signs take long to show in women, many are unaware they are carrying venereal diseases.
When you ask around, everyone admits they have had more unprotected sex than they had protected sex. But why given the health risks? This is a question that most seem to not have an answer for. Some will tell you they don’t enjoy sex when they use a condom.
A hard nut to crack
Paul John, a third year university student does not know of a person who practices safe sex throughout the relationship among his friends.
“We use protection the first time we engage in sex with a new partner and stop once we get used to each other, sometimes a few weeks into the relationship,” he shares. Paul says the tendency is people trusting each other after a while.
Paul has contracted STIs several times and ensures the girls he sleeps with constantly take medication too. He does not bother for one night stands.
Surprisingly, Paul has never tested for HIV because he fears being told he is HIV positive. He better not finds out, he says. Why does he practice unsafe sex then? He just laughs it off. No further explanation.
Despite the HIV threat particularly among the youth, changing people’s behaviours seems to be a hard nut to crack. Sexual partners continue to engage in unprotected sex despite the risks.
The preliminary findings of the Tanzania HIV Impact Survey 2016 -17 show there are approximately 81,000 new HIV infections annually among adults ages 15 to 64.
HIV prevalence among adults ages 15 to 64 is 5.0 percent (6.5 percent among females and 3.5 percent among males). It is estimated that 1.4 million Tanzanians aged between 15 and 64 are living with HIV.
Complex human mind
“It’s really difficult to understand the human mind. We know the dangers of engaging in unsafe sex but we still continue to have unprotected sex, sometimes with strangers,” says Elias Japhet, a dala dala conductor.
He has slept with prostitutes on several occasions, sometimes without protection. Elias says one night stands are common at parties and says very few people remember to wear a condom when they are drunk. Like Paul, he has never gone for an HIV test for fear of finding out the worst.
Married people are not spared. Susan*, a mother of one had an unprotected encounter with an ex and regretted it thereafter. She spent sleepless nights for weeks as she suffered pangs of guilt and the fear that she might have contracted HIV.
“One day I met an ex with whom I had lost contact for many years. We were happy to see each other and exchanged phone numbers. We started texting each other shortly after we met and one thing led to another. We soon planned to meet at some hotel and ended up having unprotected sex. He claimed he did not have condoms,” says Susan.
What if she had contracted HIV? Susan She did not want to infect her husband. “I regretted ever meeting him again,” she says.
She had to find a way to convince her husband to use a condom until she went for an HIV test. Thank God she tested negative. Susan never wanted anything to do with her ex again.
Are you satisfied?
A Dar-es Salaam-based behavioural psychologist, Novelty Deogratius, says cheating is mainly a result of lack of satisfaction in a relationship. He mentions lack of intimacy and communications as factors that lead to cheating.
“One partner will feel empty, lonely angry and unappreciated. Because of this, they’d want to fulfill their needs outside the relationship. They do so to show their partner that someone else values them,” says the psychologist.
He says when couples lose intimacy among them, communication breakdown becomes inevitable, a situation which makes each one of them to have mixed feelings when they opt for extra-marital affairs.
According to him, cheating for couples who are in conflicts becomes a niche for solace as none of them enjoys being home.
“So most of them start engaging in other relationships, feeling that the person they married was not their choice. It is during this time that everyone starts longing for another partner,” he stresses.
The psychologist adds that peer pressure is also to blame because in most cases some women or men tend to pump their compatriots with unbecoming advice on how to live in relationships.
“It is not uncommon to find women at a salon praising each other for engaging in extra-marital affairs; the same also applies to men who think that having a good number of women in a way exudes virility,” says the psychologist.
Personality also may put a relationship at risk, according to the psychologist. There are people who brag about having dated hundreds of women before marriage, warning that it is hard for people with such behaviour to do away with the behaviour once they marry. Dr Plackseda Ngowi who works with Plan International’s health centre in Buguruni says they receive patients with different sexually transmitted infections. Apart from treatment, they give these patients guidance and counselling.
“We advise youth to abstain from intercourse or resort to one partner. And for married couples, if one of them is infected with HIV, we encourage them to use condoms or separate,” she says.
Abdallah*, 34, does not think he would use condoms with his wife even if he tested positive for HIV. How can one use condoms in marriage? he asks. The father of two would not use condoms even if his wife insisted they do for whatever reason.
If she did, he says, that would guarantee a ticket back to her parents home. His religion allows him to marry more than one wife and he wonders whether he would be obliged to have protected sex with his wives if he had more than one. Trust is the most important thing, he believes, although he has extramarital affairs.
Anglican Pastor Raymond Michael says his church requires those intending to marry to test for HIV and other STIs before marriage.
“After we are contented that both are HIV negative, we take them through two to three weeks seminars on marriage life,” says the pastor.
* Names have been changed to protect privacy.