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The Big Question: Can people change their sexual behaviour?

Updated Wednesday 1st December 2004

Can we overcome carnal impulses and change sexual behaviour? Are people more flexible when their lives depend on it?

A couple holding hands Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team

Abstain from sex or use a condom - how best to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS? That's one of the debates that's been raging at the 15th International AIDS conference.

Nearly ten per cent of Kenyans, for example, are living with the virus, most of them infected through unprotected sex. The Big Question - from Kenya - is: Can people change their sexual behaviour?

Football against AIDS Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission The Mathare Youth Sports Association thinks they can. Based in a huge Nairobi slum, where HIV infection levels are high, MYSA uses football to change people's sexual attitudes.

With more than a thousand teams, including 250 for girls, MYSA kicks off each training session with frank discussions and role play games that tackle HIV/AIDS and promote safe sex.

And success on the pitch boosts the girls' self-confidence. "When we beat the boys it makes us feel good," says 14 year-old Maureen. "It makes me feel good when I challenge a big person and yet I am small."

Footballers Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission "If I was to turn back my clock. I would have been the most careful person. I would not have had a relationship without thinking twice." For Sophia Mogoni, any talk of behaviour change is too late. She is one of more than an estimated Two million HIV+ Kenyans and has lived with the virus for nearly twenty years. She talks openly to The Big Question about the impact of the disease on her life: infections like genital herpes, financial stress and alienation from her family. And now Sophia worries for her teenage daughter, Regina. She wants her to understand how sex can devastate our lives: "Sex is not a must, you can do without sex." But if you are in a relationship, she says, trust is all important.

"Abstinence is not easy," says Clay Kodiaga. When he lived in the seaside town of Mombasa, he regularly put himself at risk. He had sex for money and he often didn't use a condom. He has now changed his ways, but he says it is hard for young people in Kenya - they are getting too many mixed messages. "The parents, the teachers, the government are burying their heads in the sand. That generation is still catching up." According to the WHO, women are more at risk of contracting HIV than men - physiologically, they are more vulnerable. In Africa, for example, women are two and a half times more likely to contract HIV than men. And, as Juma Mwatsefu of The Family Planning Association of Kenya tells The Big Question, culture can work against them as well. Polygamy, widow inheritance and ritual cleansing all compound the risk, and too often the women have no say. "The sexual relationship is unbalanced. Sex is not a woman's issue."

So a group of Nairobi women have faced the taboo head on, by bringing the Vagina Monologues to a Kenyan audience. "It empowers women", says Mumbi Kaigwa, a Kenyan actor who appeared in the play, with its candid testimonies about sex, femininity and abuse. "The very fact that we can do a production in Nairobi [means] something is happening." But if Kenya is to see a real change in attitudes towards sex, there's still a lot further to go. That's why Mumbi is working to write a Kenyan version of the monologues , to reach men and women in the rural communities

This edition of The Big Question was first broadcast on 17th July 2004

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