The ‘never’ safe sex discussion
By Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor
As a young girl growing up in Nigeria, the way in which my parents broached the subject of relationships with members of the opposite sex evolved like this:
- Age 13: avoid boys, if they touch you, you’ll get pregnant.
- Age 18: I don’t want to see you with any boy
- Age 26: Where is your husband?
- Age 33: Stop selecting men, just pick one.
- Age 39: There’s this church, the pastor is very powerful…
Whilst all funny, you get the picture; we never spoke about sex, let alone safe sex. I remember a distinct moment, around the age of 14 onwards, my mother started talking about boys as I had developed full breasts, and she realised that men looked at me in ways they wouldn’t a child. She gave me a newspaper article to read, it was about a young girl of around 13 who was pregnant, and told me not to come home with a child growing in my belly. Sex was never viewed as a pleasurable thing even after I found golden wrapped condoms in my parents’ room; I wondered why would anyone want to go through that. From the way my mother had described sex to me, no child or unmarried woman had any business letting anyone else touch the sacred vessel that was the vagina, or the breasts or the arms. At 14 I fell asleep on the shoulder of a male friend of mine, once we got home, my mother called me into the room and asked if he was my boyfriend – as it turned out, touching also equated to sexual relations.
By the age of 15 whilst I was questioning my sexuality, the idea of being with boys still fascinated me, in school we had learnt how people got pregnant and also the purpose of condoms… not that we knew how to put them on, however. No-one really believed in teaching 14-15 year-olds how to use condoms, after all in their minds we were not of age to know such things, even though it was common knowledge that the boys and girls were seeing each other and not in the most religious of ways.
I remember at 16, I went to visit the son of a family friend, he was about 21. The day before, he had asked me to bring him a DVD after I dropped off a letter for his father. As I dropped off the DVD, he asked me to hang out, at 16, I felt pretty cool to be asked. So I stayed, he tried saying the right things to get me to go into his room with him, but I remembered what my mother had told me at 13 ‘avoid boys, it they touch you, you’ll get pregnant’ – about six months later, I found out he was to become a father, he had touched another girl. At this point, I still knew nothing about STIs only that sleeping with men meant pregnancy, so it was obvious to me at that age, sleeping with women would definitely not equate to pregnancy, so I thought I was safe. Anything goes right?
Wrong! STIs can still be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, mucus contact for instance, mouth to vagina, vaginal fluids, menstrual blood and sharing sex toys. Bacterial Vaginosis is the most common STI to be passed between women. I’ve met many women and lesbians who have felt safer having sex with a woman, and hence forget the basic things such as when using a sex toy, use a new condom for penetration of different orifices and for each new partner. Sex toys should be washed with soap and water between sessions; if you have cuts or sores in the mouth or on the lips, avoid oral sex or use a dental dam. Transmission is also possible via hands, fingers, and mutual vulva rubbing so wash hands before and after sex; it is safer to wear latex gloves and use plenty of water-based lubricant for vaginal and anal fisting.
When I first moved to the UK at 16, and had my first girlfriend at 18, she taught me a lot about woman on woman safe sex. She was patient in her teaching, making me take a test, even though I was adamant I couldn’t possibly have any STI because I’d never slept with a man, yet alone a woman. As it turns out, because I have four older brothers and rarely cleaned the toilet seat before I used it, I had caught thrush. It was the simplest of things that I had missed, but yet something so important.
Here is the reality of the situation, according to Public Health England, the rates of chlamydia in black or black British women are three times higher than for white women, with rates of gonorrhoea in black an black British women over four times higher than for white women.
I have met many lesbians who have unsafe one night stands, be it under the intense influence of alcohol or knowingly sober. In all these cases, there is the assumption that nothing bad can happen because no penis is involved, therefore the same precautions aren’t needed, i.e. condoms. But the harsh reality is this, infections are everywhere we turn, we must always be safe, test every three months, even if you’ve had no sexual intercourse with someone else. There’s no harm in just being safe.