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The last week (oh it’s only wednesday) has been very interesting as I’m in the planning stages of a new production I’m working on (can’t wait to announce it), but after conversations with several people, I realise there are some very serious problems in prevention initiatives and no surprises that people are still getting infected.

Ok, I’m obviously simplifying the issues, but some of the things I see or hear really does make me think hmmmm.

I was looking at the messaging we’re focusing on for this show and it struck me that none of it is new. Not the messages of use a condom, or you can live long, healthy, productive lives if you test positive, or don’t have sex or don’t exchange sex for gifts blah blah blah. So my question to the people debriefing us was, why aren’t these messages working? I don’t want to flog a dead horse and make no impact by focussing on the same messages.

It made me think about the paper my sister wrote for her thesis (ok I didn’t read the whole paper – don’t hate me Tasha!), but I know it was along the lines of how our interpersonal relationships and emotions affect the risks we take. In other words, we know on a rational level the risks involved, but when you’re emotionally invested, you might do something stupid.

Yet rarely in HIV prevention campaigns do we talk about the emotional side of risk taking. I think there are other dynamics as well, such as low self-esteem, lack of personality personal identity and lack of a level of selfishness that puts ourselves first. Some of these are learnt as children and also developed as you mature (but usually post your early 20s). So if the foundation is weak, how can we try and rebuild from the middle of the structure?

And we can’t forget the environments we live in, if we can change the society then maybe we can find a way to get through these messages. But we also have to be honest and not judge people. For example, we need to be clear about the you can live a long and productive life if you test positive, as long as you take care of your health and have the healthcare infrastructure to support this, because let’s be honest, we’ve seen some people who have died within a few years of testing positive. Of course these can be explained, in most cases, but too often we want to gloss over any potentially uncomfortable or ‘sad’ information that might scare people or make them question what you’re telling them. But people aren’t stupid. If you give them all the information they can process it and make informed decisions or understand what happens when things don’t go as planned.

Or if you’re involved in multiple concurrent relationships, don’t tell people they are bad people for being in the relationship – make them safe, not ashamed.

If you tell them the nice, comfortable message and gloss over some of the facts, they don’t trust you – because it doesn’t add up. I’m losing my trail of thought here…

Anyway my point was that when it comes to HIV messaging, we’ve got to look beneath the layers and keep asking why until we get to the core. We need to stop jumping on the bandwagon of what the west powers that be in the HIV field say is the problem, or is the silver bullet. And there are some things that statistics can’t answer or capture – those are the issues of feelings and emotions that we need to learn to incorporate in everything we do. That is if we want to have impact and start making a difference in the HIV/AIDS response.

My headline is a bit misleading. I don’t mean to suggest that the Pope and the Catholic church are right in their lack of support for people using condoms, but then again, can we blame them?

The Catholic church, like all religions, is founded upon a core set of values and principles. Some of those principles and values are deeply entrenched in Bibilical beliefs: no sex before marriage, natural family planning (or by God’s wish) etc. In essence the condom goes against this.

If something – man made no less (though if God gives man the ability to make these things, surely that’s proof that it’s not a bad thing?) – brings into question all those values, don’t you have a flawed product? So the Catholic church find itself in a weird predicament.

Millions of people are dying as a result of AIDS, that is true. But millions more are seemingly healthy but have lost their way and their faith or any form of relationship with God. The Church is in the business of selling hope, salvation and all that good stuff. If they openly support condoms, even as a method of prevention then they have to admit that their core competence, isn’t a competence at all.

And if one value is questioned or slightly flexible, then what else is? What other ‘sin’ is debatable? I mean think about the reputation of the brand that is the Catholic church?

The brand will have to be repositioned, or maybe even find new markets to enter – they could try China?

Seriously though, to be fair to the Catholic church, they are also one of the few organisations that focus on palliative care of people living with HIV, especially across Africa where so many people living with HIV often aren’t cared for by family and friends. This is in no way to excuse the Pope or the Catholic church, but is testament of their brand values.

The Pope and the Church may have a problem with condoms, and it’s their prerogative – whether we like it or not – but it is extremely irresponsible of them to continously promote negative messages about condoms. That isn’t their line of business nor is it the business they want to go into, and since they aren’t a for-profit organisation, there is no harm in them keeping quiet about it. We all have opinions, but when those opinions harm people, it’s best to keep them to yourself.

I’m actually surprised no one has taken a class action suit against the Pope and the Catholic church as a whole, isn’t it cause enough for mass murder? Because unfortunately, whether we like it or not, people actually listen to what their religious leaders say. (Though the Pope looks kinda scary, why would people listen to him?)

But that being said, I still believe that faith and religion can be such a great healer that if they were to admit that some of what they’re selling isn’t well, authentic, it puts everything the peddle into question, so they still have to look at their numbers and see which will cause more damage I suppose.

And seeing that so many people in Africa are religious, they still turn to the Church for comfort and support when they are diagnosed. The Pope and the Church can survive this, unfortunately.

Of course that’s just my thoughts – as disconnected as they seem. But what do you think? Apart from the obvious, the church and pope are terrible and killing people comments. Just saying…

After all of two hours sleep (if that), I landed in Vienna for the International AIDS Conference, where supposedly 25,000 people were going to be attending. Straight from the airport, I changed as I had to meet Bill Roedy, my chief exec to do a formal session on the New Generation Leadership with Michel Sidebe and the Crown Princess of Norway, and a bunch of other leaders, young and old.

He loved it – i was dreaming of my bed the whole time but had to stay. UNAIDS were launching this mentorship hub and programme to support youth leaders with established leaders (whatever that really means). And Bill does have a long history of supporting young people, and more so with the Staying Alive Foundation, so made sense for us to participate.

Luckily enough my dear friend Mark Connolly was also at the meeting, so we hung out and chilled – we got kicked out of the room because we weren’t on the list of established leaders, and i’m guessing I’m too old to pass as a youth leader (though some of the ages of those youth were questionable). By this point, I’m not only exhausted, I’m starving too. Lack of food and sleep deprivation is not a good combination for me, I’m seriously irritated.

By the time we’re invited back for the less formal session, I just want to go home (i.e. the hotel), but Bill wants a debrief, so I have to stay. About 90minutes later as I’m close to the end of my tether, I realise what was also irritating me about the meeting. I wasn’t hearing anything new.

I’ve been a ‘youth’ (love that term) in this field and the things I was hearing in the room was the same things I’ve heard years before – there was nothing new. Young people need to stop thinking that they can’t get anything done without the adult partnership in place – or they’ll be waiting for ever. But more than that, they have to act like young people and not adult clones in the UN system. Being young is what differentiates them from adults – this is their USP. I understand that it helps to talk their language, but if you try to behave like an adult (and i mean this in the HIV field) you won’t get very far, because the real adults have years of experience on you. Besides, why can’t the adults be the ones to adapt to young people’s way of thinking and behaviour?

They complained that they need jobs. Well I’ve seen enough youth consultants who aren’t youth, why not become a youth consultant – like a real life one? Sell your skills that way. And as for the whole money issue? That’s always going to be an issue, we’ve got to figure a way to be creative.

(shrug) I guess i just felt there were more excuses than solutions in that room. Though Paul Farmer did say something that made sense… If only I could remember what it was (it’s been a long week – and it’s only Tuesday).

After that Mark and I went for some Weiner Schnitzel (sp). I loved it! Even though it was deep fried…

That ended around 6pm and I still went on to have more dinner with my colleagues Julie and Siobhan! We got kicked off the terrace of our hotel for making too much noise… aaah that was a nice night.

Sunday was interesting. I had scheduled an hour long meeting between Bill and some young positives representing different parts of the world (strangely enough no one from Africa). My girl Jessica was there and she’s always cool – love her to bits.

Kenneth Cole joined the meeting with his daughter, which was cool. The conversation was really informal and it was just to get some insight into what it means to be young and HIV+ and what we should be doing more of and less of to support them. It was a really interesting conversation, it’s true what Michel Sidebe says, no one will know more about HIV/AIDS than a person living with the virus.

The rest of the team along with two cast members from Shuga arrived that day so the next part of my work began. Promoting Shuga. Because I’m getting tired again, I’ll summarise.

We had a press conference today with Bill, Ambassador Goosby and Jimmy Kolker, with Dr Dina Borzekowski presenting the results from the impact evaluation of the Ignite project. Shuga’s results were extradordinary. 60% of young people in Kenya had seen it! and over 80% of them had had their thinking affected by Shuga, with increased intentions to get tested, decreased intentions to have multiple concurrent partners and increased positive attitudes towards people living with HIV. You can get the full results from the staying alive site. Or i can send you a copy if you want.

So what does this all mean? We’re doing Shuga 2!

Ok I’m off, have to go and organise tonight’s screening and cocktail party. Catch me on twitter, I finally succumbed…. @cathyphiri

Sex and the City 2 came out tonight and my girlfriend Rachelle got tickets to an Diet Coke/ASOS special screening at Westfields tonight. I was exhausted but not wanting to leave my friend in the lurch I went. I’m not particularly a major nor obsessed SATC fan, but thought why not – bound to be good shoes in it and we can always do with a girlie flick.
I’m glad that I went. Despite the reviews or previews I’ve been reading, I actually enjoyed it. The first SATC was a bit sad and not particularly female empowering, this one really was, plus the shoes and clothes were amazing. I couldn’t help wonder who actually can wear heels 24/7 like they did (I suppose New Yorker women?) but I could dream of the day I could wear my choos or Louboutains the whole day. Oh yeah, it’s a movie, but one can still dream.
And change several times in one day – love it! I did think Samantha’s overly sexual ways were too much, i mean damn, she’s always in heat! Well at least they clearly showed she’s a firm believer in safe sex.
Afterwards, Rachelle and I caught up over a couple of glasses of champagne – 2 hours later we realised we’d only had 2 glasses each! It’d been awhile since we actually talked so guess that’s what happens when you’re chatting and last orders came and went without us noticing. Oh well.
I do recommend SATC for a girly night out – no one really expects to take it seriously, but its one of those films that you have to watch and appreciate, if not just for the amazing shoes. But I would like to know when I can plan a trip to Abu Dhabi – not that it was filmed there, still…

Our office really can be a fun place to work, especially because so much of what we do revolves around sex. Sometimes I don’t even know how the conversations come up but I do worry about the poor emerging markets team hearing our rather graphic conversations – hmmm surely there’s an HR policy that goes against sexually inappropriate conversations? But of course it’s not inappropriate, it’s work related!

So the masturbation one came up … actually I have no idea how that one came up think it was from our fans on facebook discussing it. It was interesting to see the comments! People still believe that masturbation can make you blind because it’s some great sin from God. Hmmm ok.

Then it was that women don’t masturbate, only men do… hmmm ok. And then my personal favourite, normal people don’t masturbate.

I did like the woman who then said, but it was good for relaxation because you really shouldn’t have your body all tense. Interesting that no one said that it was a good method of safer sex!

Today was more fun, my colleague Julie Allen, has been asked to sit on a panel during the International AIDS Conference to discuss how you can make the female condom more appealing to men. Our response was, ‘surely you should make it more appealing to women first?’

We discussed who had ever tried using one – no one and who was willing to try one – to help give Julie some first hand research to use for her panel – no one. Finally someone admitted having tried it once. The downside, it sounded like shagging a plastic bag (heard that one before). The merits? Well, ‘as a guy, you don’t have to use a condom, what’s better than that?’

We decided to put it to the fb fans. Wow, shock, wow.

Mainly women responded – not that many but still – and pretty much all of them said that they didn’t think it was safe! Interesting.

So back to my point – how do you make it more appealing to women? Seriously have you seen it? Nothing is sexy about it. At least get the packaging to a sexy point like most male condoms. And can it not be easier to insert? Well maybe it is easy to use, but the instructional graphics on the pack seem quite complicated…
Anyway maybe the second generation female condoms (creatively titled FC2) are more sexy and less noisy (they claim this at least). Funnily enough, think i’ll stick to the male condoms for now.

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.

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.

Interestingly enough the circumcision issue brings up a lot of debate – people feel very strongly on the issue. But the problem with – and therefore what is great about – the internet is that it’s free range for people to voice their opinions. Some opinions also hurl abuse, while others are informative. It’s almost like people forgot their social manners when it comes to online space. I had someone comment on one of my posts – saying my stance on circumcision was irresponsible. I have allowed other comments of people who are opposed to my view because it’s informative – we should have a space to discuss issues – and they weren’t plain rude and offensive – and since it is my blog, I decided to have my own rules – freedom of speech that isn’t obnoxious.
I think I was also slightly peeved because I don’t write these blogs just for fun. Yes some may be humorous, but actually this issue is very real for me. Being from a country where approximately 16% of the population is HIV+ (down from 20%), I know enough people, including my own relatives who have lost their lives as a result of this virus, and many more, some extremely close to me who are still living with the virus. I don’t want to lose anyone else, even if it is inevitable for those already infected, but there is nothing worse than losing a loved one to a disease like this. Or any terminal disease I suppose.
So when I’m sharing these thoughts on what the top health bodies are suggesting are key to stemming the spread of HIV, I’m not doing it as joke, but hoping to share opinions on it and understand the issue, and hearing both sides of the debate helps this.
I don’t know if the person who chose to send the comment has ever lost someone to HIV or if perhaps he is living with the virus himself, but I think not having discussions on different aspects relating to HIV and AIDS is irresponsible. I think not talking about the realities of HIV, whether you’re infected or affected, is irresponsible. However, if he thinks that my comment about men getting circumcised if that means they won’t have to use condoms means that a whole bunch of men will go out and get circumcised, well then he clearly thinks I have more influence than even I could have imagined! (And clearly it would be a whole bunch of people who can’t really read because I’d already said that even if a man is circumcised he’d still have to use a condom. Sigh)
My point is that these blogs are my thoughts on the issue, that I want to share, because I care too much about this issue to sit here not doing all that I can do, and if that makes me irresponsible, I guess I’m happy to wear the title.

the super secret trailer for the new drama we’re producing for africa. shot on location in Nairobi – i serve as an executive producer on it. it premieres on the 11th of November!

It’s all about sexual networks at the moment. do you know who’s in your sexual network? do you know that if one person is infected in your sexual network then you and everyone else in your network is at risk (if you’re having unprotected sex)? and the best one yet – when you have unprotected sex with someone, you’ve having sex with all their partners and all their partners partners.
so here in the UK one of the pharmacies here have set up an online sexual calculator, so you can see how many people you’ve had sex with – indirectly (think six degrees of separation, but around sexual partners). the problem with it is that for some people the calculations see a bit far fetched (a friend of mine did it and it said he’d had sex with over 9 million people!). and it doesn’t really tell you how it worked it out either…
but give it a go because if nothing else, it’s fun – and you can publish it on facebook (of course)! though we really do need (young) people to understand the whole concept of sexual networks and the risks. mtv – not the business unit i’m in – did a show that showed that between a group of eight friends they’d slept with over 200 people and inadvertently with each other because of their sexual networks. scary thought.
get calculating: