Living with HIV and sexual bliss

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contracting HIV is often viewed as an event that brings a sex life to a screeching halt, but Africans of diverse age groups have been called upon to go back to their sexuality and live safe and normal lives.

« I contracted this virus [HIV] through sexual relations, so i thought my sex life was over and done with, i thought i had to stop wearing nice and sexy clothes whilst awaiting death », Florence Anam, 28 years, in charge of communication for the network of Kenyan women living with HIV, said in an interview with IRIN/PlusNews
Madam Anam says that, in the begining when she told people that she was HIV positive, lots of men avoided her, thinking that she was going to infect them. She herself lost all interest in sex months after her diagnosis. She has since discovered that she can continue having and appreciating sexual relations, inspite of her HIV status. « In my opinion one can have only one sexuality… one should not lose it because of one’s HIV status, one must simply be responsible », she said, adding that for herself, sexual relations « should be good otherwise i don’t have them».

In a recent workshop organised by the African Regional Sexuality Resource Centre (ARSRC),on sexuality at the institute located in the coastal town of Mombassa, Kenya, the questtion of the need to reconsider sexuality in the disease context, particularly in the case of chronic infections like HIV, was raised.

« HIV holds a very moral connotation. Those infected are stigmatised because they are seen as having been sexually immoral », said Richmond Tiemoko, director of ARSRC. « women are mostly affected by this type of stigmatisation because we imagine them to be the overseers of social morality, so contracting HIV is seen as an immense failure in their lives ».

There is an important consideration that people living with HIV know and stand for their rights to sexuality and sex.

Right to sexuality

The Institute of sexuality organises a forum for african health professionals to allow them deliberate on how to encourage more positive attitudes vis-à-vis sexuality on the continent.
« We think that to reduce HIV and promote healthy lifestyles, we need to adopt a positive outlook on sex and sexuality», explained Mr. Tiemoko. « Deliberations on subjects like, sexual violence, stigmatisation, self esteem and HIV helps the population to have a deeper understanding of their sexuality, thus making it less of a taboo ».

Researchers, Civil servants and members of local NGO’s took part in the Mombassa workshop, under the Theme Health and AIDS. They were advised to include topics on safe sex in their programmes directed at people living with the HIV virus.

« When i tested positive to HIV, i considered sex to be dirty and blamed myself for my misfortune», said Asunta Wagura, executive director for the Kenyan Women living with HIV network, in a recent interview with the magazine Sexuality in Africa, an ARSRC publication. « I suppresed my sexual feelings for a longtime, until i could not stand it anymore which made me say openly that ‘i am a human being with feelings and sexual needs, which have to be met without having to feel sorry » she said.
Madam Wagura, who revealed her HIV status publicly, started a controversy when she decided to have a child in 2006. Her son was born in good health and has until now been tested negative. « i was critisised everywhere… The idea was that people living with HIV/AIDS should not think about having children, because children implies having sex» she said.

Expressing herself during the workshop, doctor Sylvia Tamale, matron of law at the University of Makerere in Uganda, emphasised that there was a « disconnection » between sex in a medical point of view and sex for pleasure… « there is the need to « miseducate » and review certain lessons that the society teaches us, and open peoples mental scopes». She also said that advice on sexuality could do a lot to help change perceptions.

The ARSRC organises workshops in different locations every year (Egypte, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa). The workshop in Mombassa was organised in collaboration with its Kenyan counterpart, The Population council, an international organisation for genesic health.

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