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No sex for a month?

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The campaign by the HIV/AIDS community promoting abstinence and correct and consistent condom use has seen some success, in encouraging condom usage at least, but not so much with abstinence.

In a report published by the Southern African Journal of HIV Medicine, Alan Whiteside of the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division of the University of Kwazulu Natal is trying to get HIV/AIDS advocacy groups to start talking about this and other innovative strategies. Whiteside argues

that a national “safe sex/no sex month” could help reduce the spread of HIV by skipping the period immediately after an individual acquires the virus when they are most infectious.

But given the successes and failures of present campaigns, how effective would this be? We already know that negotiating condom usage is already difficult for women in heterosexual relationships. And with the acknowledged phenomenon of multiple concurrent sexual partnerships, it may be that if one partner is not sexually available there will be another who is. It is difficult to imagine a man with a mistress, a wife and a girlfriend abstaining from sex. But what about the practicalities for sex workers whose incomes depend on how often they have sex?

In the report Whiteside referred to religious communities such as Muslims and the Marange Apostolic Sect who were found to refrain from sex during Ramadan and Passover respectively. He acknowledges that converting to a religion is not a reasonable public health strategy, but argues that these insights raise the possibility of a campaign.

The problem with any campaign and particularly this one is community buy-in. For Southern Africans, avoiding the risk of HIV infection, as evidenced by some of the highest incidence and prevalence rates in the world, is not inducement enough. With advances in medicine, and increased availability of cheap generic drugs, HIV is no longer a death sentence. More than that, the issue of HIV incidence is compounded by social issues, which won’t go away for a month.

Given all these issues, is it even practical to spend time and money campaigning for a safe sex/no sex month?

2 comments to “No sex for a month?”

  1. Comment by Catherine:

    Well said Upenyu. Can you imagine a woman telling her husband/partner, no sex for a month? Or a man telling his wife/partner, “honey, we are not having sex for a month” ” because what????”.. “well because l might have been infected a few days ago or in the last month and l do not want to infect you at this most dangerous time” The partner would be like W T ***//**!!That would be an interesting (and dangerous) conversation to have given how emotive these issues tend to be!

    And that’s just among the consenting adults. How do we address the reality of non-consensual sex which accounts for a significant percentage of infection, in most of our countries, but especially in South Africa? I understand we are getting desperate, but wouldn’t the money be better spent elsewhere? Like maybe making sure every woman, girl, boy and man has access to post exposure prophylaxis, for when they need it most, say ummm.. after being raped maybe??

  2. Comment by Martha:

    … that is assuming all of us have the same definition of sex! In therapy practice, I have learnt much about assumptions we make and do not generally talk about. I think this is just a very very dangerous strategy.