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The thing about relationships is that we carry baggage. We can’t help it, when you’ve had a series of bad relationships or when you’ve been hurt so much that the thought of opening yourself up again doesn’t seem like a good option.

And when you reach a certain age, all you think about is the impact of decisions on your future. When I met Mr Mature a few months ago I didn’t know what to do about him. I liked the attention but I worried about the baggage he came with – being so much older than me – but two months later, I feel very comfortable with him.

I had the usual, ‘oh he’s just using you’ comments and loads of ‘be careful with him’ – though no one wants to tell me why. In the end I got so frustrated by all of the chatter, that I decided just to not address the issue. When I say not address the issue, I simply mean we choose to stay in than go out a lot. And it’s nice. He makes me feel good. What can be more important than that?

It’s been awhile that I’ve felt I could trust someone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to completely open up to him, but he doesn’t make me feel insecure. I don’t go into a panic or get all anxious if he doesn’t call me. It’s just easy and fun.

At first I was worrying about how we’d handle the age difference – he is 15 years older than me – as he’d obviously had so many more experiences than I had. But after awhile I realised there was no point thinking about it, because, I also have to be honest with myself, I still don’t know what I want in my life. I’m pretty sure I want to get married – though that’s more because I really want to wear a bridal gown… But other than that? I don’t know, my career is really my priority.

But rather than thinking about all these, and agonising over the unknown, I’m just going to enjoy the moment – who knows, he might even break my 6 months dating record! Ok i’m getting ahead of myself.

The age difference also works for us I think. I love hearing about his experiences, especially the career he has successfully built for himself – by the way, there is nothing better than both of you owning your own businesses, means some mornings we choose to lie in than rush for work! And I guess I’m also teaching him new things – don’t forget they weren’t texting when he was first dating! lol (he’s really good with texting too, must be because of his kids!). And maybe it’s his maturity as well. We’re able to have host conversations and be upfront – it’s refreshing. Neither of us are taking it our relationship too seriously, but we’re not treating it lightly and this works for me. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re being taken for granted or for a ride. I’m thankful he doesn’t make me feel this way.

I learnt a long time ago that nothing is promised so we need to live each day like it’s our last, and not worry about what tomorrow might bring and this is what I’m doing with Mr Mature. Taking each day as it comes is something new for me, I like to control everything, but to let go like this and see what happens, is actually way more relaxing!

I also don’t think everything lasts forever, so while I’m enjoying the moment, I’m also very aware that it could all end tomorrow. But at least I’d have no regrets.

At first I couldn’t understand why these beautiful women with great bodies were going around dressed in outfits that made them look homeless. They kept saying to me that they didn’t want to be sexy or attract attention. I didn’t really get that, because I think if I look good on the outside, I’ll feel good on the inside. And let’s be honest, some people can’t help but look sexy, especially if they are well put together. It’s not even about having to show any skin, but if you have a good body and your clothes fit you well, and you carry yourself with confidence and class, someone will think you’re sexy right?

I didn’t really get what the big deal was until I went on a date last week. It would be an understatement to say the guy was easy on the eyes – you could look at this guy for ours and be in awe, he is in short an adonis. What started out well enough went horribly wrong when it soon be came clear that he was more interested in getting into my pants than getting into my mind (and initially I had thought he just wanted to pick my brains as we are in the same line of work).

By the end of the date I was pretty peeved off. It’s always flattering to have someone be attracted to you, but it is frustrating when all they actually see is T&A. In fact when I remarked that it would be nice to date someone who didn’t want to have sex with me, he’s snorted, ‘with that body? good luck!’. And it dawned on me then and there why the women I’d previously mentioned decided to play down their God-given assets.

I really try not to over-analysis every situation – but let’s be honest, I’m a woman, of course I do! – I couldn’t help but wonder if this is why a lot of women in Zambia end up in situations they don’t want to be. 1 in 5 women in Zambia report having experienced sexual violence in their lives. And this is probably just the more obvious sexual violence cases. I wonder how many people think of reporting coercion. It’s such a subtle form but when you feel you have to have sex with someone even when you don’t want to, it’s never a good idea. But I digress.

I hope one day men, especially in Africa, learn to respect a woman – whether she’s saying no or yes. Because that’s the other side of the coin. If I’d met this fine man and was sexually attracted to him, then it would still have been a problem having sex with him on the first night – as a woman, either way you’re screwed (no pun intended).

Sometimes I wish I lived on a deserted island, where nothing is that complicated. Or I wish people would understand that I simply don’t care about what other people think, because either way, if people don’t understand you, they will always have an opinion of you, so why get worked up about it? Aaaah because society isn’t that simple. So back to desert island it is.

I’ve spent the last week in Nairobi listening to stats on HIV there during the day – women are up to 4 times more likely to be infected than their male peers and women in their 20s disproportionately affected etc – and at night, my Kenyan family and I are hitting the bars and clubs. Bend over Thursdays as it was known, thanks to the popular song of the same title – no longer exists but doesn’t mean you can’t go to a club on Thursday night (Thursdays are the new Fridays) and not hear Bend Over come on. As soon as it does, the young women in there go crazy and bend over, and thats when you see some all out daggery that leaves your mouth open.

I get it is a dance, a sexual dance no less, but it is just dancing. Though sometimes that dancing can go a bit far. I’m not a prude at all, but as I hear the stats, I can’t help but wonder how our sexuality plays into all of this.

My issue isn’t so much that here in Africa (or is it even many parts of the world?) we, as in black people, seem to be oversexed, my issue is that we’re made to think this is a bad thing. Cultural as a woman (in many African cultures) we are told to say no to sex, we must never be seen to want sex. But at the same time, women continue to be objectified as a sexual object. Is there any wonder than rape and sexual violence continues to occur? Sometimes women not even fully understanding that they have been raped as isn’t their role to serve a man? Or the misunderstanding that occurs when men believe the no to mean a yes?

Thankfully more and more men are choosing to err on the side of caution and accept no to mean no. But this still doesn’t empower women to say yes.

I look at the sexual health messages that are put out, all about the dangers of unprotected sex – which with our HIV rates is still necessary – but no one is talking about sex as a pleasurable act, not even in healthy relationships. So you have the guilt element coming into play. What is wrong with me if I like sex? Am I a slut? Does this make me a bad woman?

I’d like to say things are changing. In Kenya, I was shocked to hear about just how ’empowered’ women are. Women choosing to have sex when they want to and with whom, including being bisexual or bi-curious. This seems great, until I hit the clubs on Thursday night.

The sexual energy was intense – it would be if you’re dancing to Bend Over I guess – but was it a healthy one? These so-called empowered women, demanding the sex that they want are wearing outfits that made me wonder, are they really empowered or is this just a trend?

Let’s be honest, it’s one of men’s biggest fantasies to see two women at it, and who better than to feed that fantasy than women. Doesn’t it immediately make you more attractive to men if you entice them with that fantasy? So my questioning really became a matter of are women doing this because they want to and makes them happy – i.e. they are empowered – or are they doing it because it makes them more attractive to men?

Until we become absolutely confident in who we are as sexual beings and being comfortable with that, can we really, and honestly be sure about the sexual choices and decisions we make? And to support that level of security, we need the society to enable it, not by condemning sex as some moral issue, but embracing it as a healthy and positive experience, that can be enjoyed safely and responsibly.

I truly believe that once we can give young people healthy messages about sex can we then begin to see a change in our sexual behaviours – so that people aren’t hiding or feeling ashamed of their desires, but enjoying them safely. Yesterday I learnt that only 7% of young people in Zambia use condoms, there have been safe sex messages here for as long as I can remember (er over 15 years), so what isn’t working?

For now we’ll continue to see younger and younger girls doing daggery on the dancefloor and hope that’s where it stays.

I was having a conversation with a woman about my age and was shocked to learn that she was sexually assaulted by a family member as a young teenager. I was shocked because I seem to be having this conversation a lot, different women talking about sexual assaults that have happened in their lives. It’s shocking how many woman have had this experience and kept quiet about it.

Next week marks the 100th International Women’s Day, yet there’s still so much us women go through that still isn’t properly regarded or addressed. Sexual violence is one of the most brutal attacks that a woman can face that causes years of pain and damage to the woman, sometimes in ways that even she doesn’t recognise. Yet nothing is really done to encourage women to speak out about it, deal with it and bring their attackers to justice.

Something has to be said about how we value, or don’t as the case may be, women. And when it’s black women, even worse. Somehow I don’t think the world would turn a blind eye if it was masses of white men (ok women, but definitely not if it was white men) getting raped daily in the Congo.

This speaks volumes of the strength of women, but why should women have to carry this pain? African women seem to have it worse. Men just seem to assume that women are nothing more than property, or something to control and do with as they please. There is definitely need to get both men and women to value and respect a woman.

I’m obviously not saying that all African men are like that, but I know too many women (African) who have suffered some type of sexual abuse (and sometimes abuse generally) to not question the cultural nature of it.

I’m glad that organisations like Unicef are developing campaigns like Brothers for Life to try and address some of these issues of what an African man should be like, but unless it’s sustained and has a serious investment behind it, it won’t really make that much of an impact. Trying to change the fabric of someone’s being is not a small feat or a job that can be done overnight.

But we also have to start telling the stories of women, and really bringing them to the forefront. I hope UN Women takes the challenge seriously, and really addresses the plight of women globally. This can’t keep happening to generations of women coming up in this world.

Another interesting day in the office that led to the topic of masturbation. It actually started by talking about women in their late 20s never experiencing an orgasm and how possible that was. Which led to the debate about how believable (or not, as the case might be) that some women don’t masturbate.

I personally am a big advocate for masturbation. I think that it teaches people to appreciate their bodies – you have to touch yourself, which some people find weird – and it’s also a great form of safe sex. It’s also something that you can do on your own or with a partner.

In many countries around the world it is still so taboo, but I think if we encouraged more young people to masturbate they might not feel the need to have sex, and can hold out until marriage, or whenever parents and/or society deem it to be the appropriate time or age to do so.

And if you’re sexually active it teaches you what you like and what you don’t like, and therefore have a more pleasurable sexual experience with your partner. Or at least that’s what people say, I haven’t actually figured out how this works.

But that last point actually took the conversation in the office in a different direction when someone suggested that they learnt what they liked and didn’t like from porn. Well, not literally. They used porn to educate themselves on what they should be doing sexually and then tried it on their partner, and those experiences taught them more about what turned them on and off.

Well I don’t know about that, but I guess people get ‘sex education’ from many different sources, so we need to be educating through those different sources. It’s nice to see that there are some porn films (programmes?) that use condoms, because those is another way of normalising using condoms – for the people who get their sex education from porn.

But I’d still encourage masturbation – you get comfortable with your body, it’s pretty safe (unless you’re sharing toys), and allows experimentation without actually having sex. It’s interesting that people are still uncomfortable talking about it though.

Twitter is interesting. I used to think it was a tool for narcissistic people, of course now that I’m on it, I’m not singing that tune anymore. While I’m still trying to learn the ins and out of it – what is the hashtagging about? – I have found it very interesting to learn stuff people I respect and admire tweet about.

One of those people is Reverend Run. I usually love his tweets as they’re inspiring and motivational. Something that I like to read when I get up in the morning and right before I got to bed. However, the other day he tweeted ‘Fellas:::If she’s amazing she won’t be easy, if she’s easy she won’t be amazing -Jamal Bryant’.

I see where he was going with it, (and I suppose I must clarify that it is someone else’s quote), on one hand he can be seen to be empowering women to be more virtuous. On the other hand he’s reinforcing women with low self esteem who do have sex easily to be kept down.

I’ve seen it too often, young girls who got caught up in a bad situation – be it some form of sexual abuse – or just not loving themselves enough to say no, or peer pressure or something else that made them make that one decision to have sex when they didn’t want to. On the first night too. It’s hard to come back from that.

It takes real strength to break that cycle of having sex with men who don’t deserve you, and to say that if you have sex that easy you’re not worth much is pretty irresponsible if you ask me.

Black girls especially have it really hard as it is, sexualised in the media, not many examples of black men loving black women and treating them right (thank God for President Obama), that it’s easy for us to suffer from lower self esteem, dysfunctional perceptions of our bodies and believing we’re nothing more than a show-piece or sex toy for our men. But it’s time we change that.

First of all we need to show young black girls that being beautiful doesn’t mean you need to be half naked (Beyonce please put some clothes on in your videos), and also celebrate our diversity. There is not one definition of black beauty. Once we can instil that love, pride and respect within them we can move onto sexuality.

Our bodies are our temples, or should be, but we have to be more clear about that message. If a woman who loves herself, has self-respect and high self-esteem generally wants to have sex with any number of men, should we persecute her? Why does that make her less amazing a person?

How can a person be defined by the number of times she opens her legs, or to the different number of men? She could be an amazing person who has had bad things happen to her in the past, or she could be an amazing person who just likes sex?

Makes me wonder how come there are enough male celebrities who claim to be sex addicts but no female celebrities – could this possibly be because they’d just be labeled sluts. It is a double standard. Should we not then be saying than man-whores are not amazing men (well generally they aren’t), we just need to hear it more often – and not be the scorned woman.

Though maybe I misinterpreted the quote and what he meant was that it takes work to get and keep an amazing woman! That she has standards that might be high, but that’s what it takes to be with such an amazing woman. I’d prefer it if that is the message, so I’m going with this version, so that I can still keep Rev Run as one of my inspired personalities to follow on twitter.

Of course it’s also spurned me to think that there might be something else I should be doing. Watch this space.

I’m addicted to shopping. There I said it. In the last month or so I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of money on handbags, clothes, electronics and other personal items. I am an emotional shopper; frustration, anger, sadness all lead me to the nearest shop in sight. And you know you’re an addict when you hide your purchases from friends and family, and even colleagues at work! Or make excuse, ‘no, I didn’t buy it, so and so gave it to me, aren’t they nice?’ I’ve been doing that for years.
But I’ve noticed that my purchases have become a little bit more expensive, a Marc Jacobs handbag, a Michael Kors clutch, a MacBook, a professional straightener (erm my 3rd one!) and I’m beginning to wonder if its influenced by what I see around me. In fact I know it is – that and the fact that I can now actually afford it. I see these products in my favourite magazines, with women I admire and maybe even someone talking about it being a must have. And then I feel I must have it!
So what if I change my environment would that help? I don’t know. Ok maybe if I’d never been in the environment in the first place, then I’d still have the shopping addiction but for less pricey stuff.
I was actually going to relate this to HIV messaging and how messaging to the individual is no doubt crucial, but equally so is messaging to the community. How the community dictates what is acceptable and what is not, making it a healthy environment to talk about sex without shame or discrimination, allowing it to be a good thing to use protection (condoms) in relationships (including marriage) etc.
And that in turn would make people within the communities have better, safer behaviours and create enabling environments for those already living with the virus. A win win situation right?
But then I thought back to my original statement; I have an addictive personality and I’m addicted to shopping. That’s within me, it’s not a product of my environment.
Maybe the whole nature vs nurture argument is just a cop out, an enabling argument for people who don’t want to take responsibility for their behaviour? If it was socially unacceptable to be a shopaholic, I’d lie about my sprees. Oh wait, I already said that I occasionally do that too, though Lord knows why. But my point is, this is the same thing that people who don’t want to change their behaviour will do.
It’s funny – and now I’m completely going off on a tangent (as I usually do) – I was having this discussion with a friend and talking about the sexual risks my friends (ok myself included) took back in Zambia. Using condoms or not, we’d still have sex. Russian roulette with our lives right? Some of those friends regrettably did end up with the bullet. It didn’t stop us.
Then I moved to London. Now, I’m not particularly a fan of the media (ironic i know), but I just see how this can be manipulated, and I do take everything I see on TV or hear on radio with a pinch of salt (if i wasn’t there myself, not sure it happened, or certainly the way the media said it did). But anyway, there was something about the way AIDS in Africa was reported and depicted or the way people talked about it that scared the crap out of me. Now, if I have sex, when I go back home for holidays or whatever, it’s always protected! – oh wait, so wasn’t that as a result of my environment?
Point is, we need to do both – change the individual and change the community.

This is a re-post from www.staying-alive.org but I really liked it so wanted to share:

When I told my friend Sam that I was a “vagina warrior,” he couldn’t help but burst out laughing.
“A vagina warrior?” He questioned, “What does that even mean?”
A fair enough response to such a statement… similar to mine when I first heard the term. “Vagina warrior” conjured up images of a jousting labia and an armored clitoris fighting other labias and clitorises for world vaginal domination… or something like that.
In reality, the term is far less comical and far more important.

Vagina Warrior: a vagina friendly person of any gender identification who embodies the spirit of equality and empowerment, and assists in the battle to end violence against women.

Sufficed to say, Sam was thrilled that despite his penis, he could join the Vagina Warrior team!

The term was coined by Eve Ensler, activist and author of the critically acclaimed Vagina Monologues. Ensler also created V-Day, her own “holiday” of sorts that corresponds with Valentine’s Day and raises awareness about violence against women and girls. On V-Day, Vagina Monologues is performed in thousands of locations worldwide.

But, as vday.org will tell you, “Performance is just the beginning. V-Day stages large-scale benefits and produces innovative gatherings, films and campaigns to educate and change social attitudes towards violence against women.”

The money raised is distributed to thousands of different organizations but every year the V-Day team choose one particular initiative to spotlight. This year, they’re hoping to empower women and girls of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They rage with a raw yet truthful statement, “STOP RAPING OUR GREATEST RESOURCE.”

Certainly this type of brutality and dehumanization isn’t a fun or popular topic, but it is an important and all too pressing one.

Violence against women (and women not feeling empowered in general) is arguably one of the largest contributors to the spread of HIV/AIDS. Sometimes it’s as complicated as rape and sometimes it’s as simple as a consenting young woman lacking the confidence to say, “put on a condom.”

And yet in these sad circumstances, there is reason to hope. If violence against women, inequality, injustice and dis-empowerment are central causes to HIV/AIDS then it would stand that peace, equality, justice and empowerment for women have the potential to be an arsenal in the battle against HIV and AIDS.

Turning the tide for women won’t be easy and, as strange as it sounds, it certainly isn’t something that women can accomplish by themselves. We need to call upon all the penis-clad warriors to rise with us. Yes we need to educate our daughters, sisters, mothers, friends but we also need to educate our sons, brothers and fathers. (And of course those who don’t associate with just one gender as well.)

But, as my teacher (and vagina warrior on her own accord) Mrs. Mary Morris likes to remind me, “it’s all about setting manageable goals.” So perhaps we can’t change attitudes over night but we certainly can have a starting point.

So I’m going to use V-Day as a launching pad and issue a challenge to anybody who is willing to take it up.

Define “vagina warrior” on your own terms, what it means to YOU and how you can implement these principles into your life. That can mean removing certain derogatory words for women from your vocabulary, mentoring young people or having a heart-to-heart with someone you love.

I’ve sought out some incredible young people to give you their definitions. Use them as a starting place, an inspiration, a jumping off point. And, if you feel compelled, share with us your response in the comments section below.

For Cassie Hoeprich, director of the Women’s Action Committee at the University of Washington and Co-Producer of her schools production of The Vagina Monologues, being a vagina warrior “is more than just advocating for women. It’s about becoming aware of how all aspects of society have created inequalities within gender, but also within race, class, ability, etc. Acknowledging intersectionality can help us understand the different experiences that different women have. Eve Ensler has done quite a bit in advocating for what she had come to see the female voice as, but now it’s time that we start realizing it is crucial to actually include every voice instead of speaking for one another. Being a vagina warrior is respecting the range of people that identify as women and seeking allyship through out the process.”

For Tomek Latak Fior, artist and musician, “I consider myself a vagina warrior because when I’m talking to a girl I treat her as if her life and what’s going on in her world is as important and valid as my own. Like, if she mentions her period or concern over getting pregnant – I know that it’s legit conversation (instead of acting like a douche like some of my friends do). I see girls as human beings, not some idea of what “girls” are supposed to be like. I find that people like being treated like people.”

For my handsome friend Sam being a vagina warrior, “means treating all women with the same respect that I would want shown to my mom. It also means calling people out when they’re not showing decency and respect. I know a lot of guys who think that as long as they’re not being an ass, all is good. But they need to remind their friends to behave as well. I’m a vagina warrior because I treat women like people… I also really dig vaginas.”

The lovely picture of vagina warriors was taken by Lalita Love, a vagina warrior herself.

This post is by Carina Kolodny

Carina Kolodny is a writer and expert coffee shop loiterer based out of NYC. When not writing (or loitering) she can usually be found traveling the world or jumping out of airplanes. She became interested in HIV education while working with the Red Cross in Fiji. This was an enriching though terrifying experience as she hates snakes almost as much as she hates grammar. She counts Fiji, Cuba and Tanzania as second homes and strongly believes in the power of self love and red lipstick.

I do love the combination of working with media and a social issue like HIV/AIDS. It’s an opportunity to explore different ways to communicate to our audience – young people in my case. And the latest challenge is how do we capitalise on the ‘new’ era of social media and community engagement. They are also the latest buzzwords. Ok not that latest, I just always seem to be slow to the party 🙂
But more than just coming to the party, is actually figuring out how do we do this so it works, so it’s impactful? That’s what we spent the afternoon discussing in the office – there’s got to be a way to really make online engagement work and have an impact. It’s obviously a great opportunity for dialogue, but we want to take it to the next level.
I have to admit we are working on some really exciting initiatives and will be interesting to see how they all pan out. Will keep you posted. If you know any really cool initiatives that are coupling social, and more importantly public health, with social media, I’d love to hear about them.

Sorry I’ve been away for awhile, I’d gone away to help a friend ‘find herself’. As a ‘grown up’ woman, I do find it sad and hard to believe how many so called grown women are still battling with self-esteem issues. I suppose in a way we all have those feelings once in awhile where we doubt ourselves in one aspect or another. But this women, she seems to perpetually be in that state. On the surface, she’s a beautiful successful woman. She’s intelligent, and has a body to die for. But inside, it’s like she hasn’t caught up with that exterior. She’s like a young girl, stuck somewhere between being a little girl and being a woman.
This causes all sorts of problems for her in her personal life, she always seems to be caught up in destructive relationships – with men who cared nothing for her. If you meet her you’d think she’s a strong, independent, opinionated woman, but know anything about her relationships and you’d wonder if it was the same person. She tended to be with men who treated her like a plaything, often times these men had other women in their lives and only called on my friend when they wanted sex with minimal drama.
The problem was as a young girl, she was violated in the worst way possible, raped by two men who she knew – well two different occassions but within a few months of each act, amounting to three times in total. I think this pretty much screwed up any self love she might have had for herself, especially since she’d been an 18 year old already struggling with her looks. And I don’t think she ever recovered.
But the problem with her and other women with self-esteem problems is that because they don’t love themselves they put themselves in situations that can be harmful – like having unprotected sex with men they barely know. That was the thing that worried me about my friend – she’d know to get herself tested but even if the men she was sleeping with didn’t want to get tested, she’d still have unprotected sex with them.
Her story isn’t unique at all and this is what bothers me. We focus a lot of our prevention campaigns around using condoms, getting tested and saying no to sex. But the reality is we need to tackle the fundamental issues of self love. It’s already a hard battle for women in my generation (not that i’m that old!), but what about teenage girls growing up in a world where someone as talented as Beyonce is half naked in all her videos? Or even the videos where men seem to be talking appreciatively (until you actually listen to the words) of the curvaceous, skimpy clad girl dropping it like it’s hot?
They are being groomed to be a sexual object to be here to provide sexual gratification to a man, who if he really likes her will ‘spend it all on her and make her bed rock’.
I know we hear people talking about self-respect, but how do we instill respect in women when the media is full of images that promote anything but respect for women – whether it’s self-respect or from men (that’s another blog post for another day)?
If women, young and older, loved themselves, had higher self-esteem and self-respect, they wouldn’t be putting themselves in situations where they are disrespected or put at risk because of wanting to bend to a man’s sexual wants.
I’m happy to say that my friend finally acknowledged that she suffers from seriously low self-love after spending a weekend with a man who treated her badly – but had lots of sex with her – and she’s now seeking help. I have to admit, she’s one of the lucky ones, considering her sexual network – she’s very lucky.