Marriage Is No Protection Against HIV

Florence Machio

For women in Africa, marriage is no protection against HIV. Their challenge is how to start negotiating for condom use 20 years into their marriages.

Those who profess a belief in monogamy will not necessarily remain faithful to their partners. While those who have extramarital affairs give different reasons as to why they do what they do, a recent study has just reaffirmed women's worst fears, that men do indeed have affairs outside of marriage.

We've always known this, but now a study has now been done to support our intuition. If the findings released late last year at the fifth Africa population conference are anything to go on, you might want to reflect on when you last asked your husband to use a condom.

The study, conducted in the Mbeya region of Tanzania and in Nigeria, highlighted what most women might find to be obvious: that most married men do have extramarital affairs. What makes it scary is that Mbeya is a region that has the highest HIV/AIDs prevalence rate in Tanzania, twice the national average. During this study, 70% of sex workers tested in Mbeya were found positive.

The respondents in the study were asked whether or not they had had sex outside marriage. It was found that men who live in urban areas are likely to be involved in extramarital affairs due to availability of hiding places, said the lead researcher. When I heard this fact I nodded to the fact that there are indeed many hiding places in the urban areas, especially in our towns, as opposed to the rural area where word goes round very fast if one is spotted "walking" with another man's woman. That means that the risk of getting caught in your village is higher than in Nairobi.

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Let me also note another interesting fact the study found: a man who has premarital sex is likely to be involved in extramarital affairs after he gets hitched. According to another study done by the Guttmacher Institute and the Africa Population and Health Research Center, half of fifteen- to nineteen-year-olds in Uganda have had sex, even though more than eight out of ten adolescents think that both women and young men should remain virgins until they marry. If less premarital sex means fewer extramarital affairs later on, great. But my thinking is that everyone needs to get information on condom use as early as possible, no matter what their intentions are. That way condoms will be commonly used the same way one takes a pill to prevent pregnancy.

Dr. Oyediran Kola, who carried out the Nigerian study, also had the same results with an indication that there is a correlation between first sexual encounter to extra marital sex.

Their conclusion was that efforts should be directed at empowering married women to negotiate for condom use in marriage. The challenge is now for married women to negotiate for safer sex especially if their husbands are having extramarital affairs. How do you start negotiating for condom use 20 years into a marriage?

The highest number of extramarital affairs, according to both studies, occurs in the 40-49 and the 30-39 age group. Its no wonder that there is a website dedicated to philanderers to help married men and women cope with the pain of being cheated on.

The fact that 62% of Kenyan women are HIV positive tells a lot, especially because the rate of infection is higher in married couples, thanks in part to extramarital affairs.

The studies wanted to find out the linkage between men's behavior especially in sexual relationships to the spread of HIV/AIDS. This would be something probably our ministry of planning through the National Council for Population and Development might want to look at to probably give an insight as to why most married women are living with HIV.

This is a dilemma that every African woman and indeed every woman is faced with as the epidemic continues to hold a female face.

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