Despite decades of SRH programming that focuses on adolescents, recent trends suggest that interventions concentrating on condom use for this age group are still required. The use of condoms has drastically decreased, with the majority of people no longer using them frequently or consistently. Poor condom use led to an estimated weekly HIV infection rate of about 1000 young women in 2021. The high rate of adolescent pregnancy and STIs, including HIV, may be caused by this. Just 39% of people over the age of 15 used condoms in 2019, according to Dr. Mpumi Zungu, director of HIV/STI and TB and Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).
In a study by Mia Barret et al. on the proper usage of condoms among young people, it was found that 70.6% of participants did not squeeze the condom’s tip before engaging in sexual activity. Young people reported that 25.0% of them did not grip the base of the penis when removing the condom, 49.4% did not roll the condom all the way down to the base of the penis, and 36.9% admitted to breaking or loosening condoms. The newlyweds from Durban want to address the source of the immoral practice of unprotected sex.
“Our view is that people are exposed to unsafe and, most times, over-fantasized sexual practices through media, social media, and television. Think about it, name one movie or TV show that truly illustrates sex scenes where the individuals practise safe sex. This is where the problem lies. Our youth are being misinformed about sex through these mediums. Safe sex is simply not shown or is portrayed as uncool,” said Ammarah Issufo, chief marketing officer at Feelz.
The burst of bubblegum aroma that each condom is loaded with dispels the notion that using a condom will “ruin the mood” by luring in a pleasant surprise rather than the disagreeable latex scent. The “The O.G,” “Skin on Skin,” and “3 Sensationz” condoms from Feelz are part of a classic line that are aptly named “The O.G,” “Skin on Skin,” and “3 Sensationz,” the latter of which combines a ribbed, contoured, and dotted texture for added pleasure and is the pinnacle of the brand’s name and core value.
“We’re not so much encouraging young people to have sex. We want them to be safe when they do. Pretending that it’s not happening is what is leading to the high numbers of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. We want to provide a platform where young people can retrieve informative and helpful information without the red tape,” said the CEO of Feelz, Waheed Issufo.
In contrast to the bland messaging typically used to promote safe sex, the pair believes that speaking in a language that young people can understand and being upfront and honest about sex will be well received by the target demographic of 18 to 24-year-olds. The Issufos seek to create their brand as a go-to source for all things sex and intimacy by publicly advocating unedited chats everywhere young people congregate, both physically and online.
One of the main objectives of Global Goal No. 3 for health and well-being is to eradicate the HIV/AIDS pandemic, along with TB, malaria and neglected tropical illnesses. But it will require a concerted effort from everyone from the public and business sectors as well as from people. “One of the reasons why people do not use condoms is trust,” she said. “Often when one is in a relationship, they start to think that they don’t have to use a condom, assuming that their partner is faithful.”
Other factors include alcohol and drug abuse, unplanned sexual encounters, fear and age dynamics in partnerships between older men and younger women, condom fatigue (essentially decreased condom use), and condom fatigue. “There also beliefs about what a condom represents to people,” she added. “To some, it represents lack of trust.”She claimed that when it comes to sexual and reproductive health, people are more afraid of pregnancy than they are of STDs (STIs). “There’s an awareness to prevent pregnancy, but no concern that someone can pick up an STI,” she added.
Given that the nation offers free male and female condoms at public and private hospitals, colleges, and schools, the low condom use is concerning. The government is currently looking into ways to make these free condoms more appealing to young people. One such program is the Max condom initiative, which has replaced the previous government condoms, which were typically viewed as inferior and smelly.
Young people have a lot of unprotected sex
Young people must be extremely vigilant and use condoms to protect themselves, said Precious Robinson, chief technical specialist for prevention, care, and treatment at health NGO, Right to Care. “It is a serious concern that in South Africa 7.9 million people were living with HIV in 2020 with a high volume of STIs. The high numbers of STI cases have partly been due to inadequate prevention. Most global health targets to end and prevent HIV and STIs for 2020 were missed because the focus was on Covid-19, and South Africa is no exception,” said Robinson.
In addition to having the highest prevalence of HIV in the world, STIs like gonorrhea, genital herpes, and syphilis are also widespread in South Africa. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) estimates that among women between the ages of 15 and 49, there were 2.3 million new cases of gonorrhea, 1.9 million new cases of chlamydia, and 23,175 new cases of syphilis in 2017.
Condom use has almost halved
Without using a condom, unprotected sex raises the chance of contracting HIV or a STI, particularly if your partner’s status is unknown. Male condom use in South Africa decreased from 30,6 million in the 2019–2020 fiscal year to 16 million in the 2020–2021 fiscal year. In the corresponding financial years, female condom use decreased from 954 599 to 305 400. Although the Health Department claims that the pandemic caused a decline in condom use, it is unclear why young people don’t use protection even when they have access.
“This is why we embarked on the distribution of scented and colored condoms to appeal to youth. We need to create more nontraditional access sites that are youth-friendly such as youth zones and youth hubs even through implementing partners,” said National Health spokesperson Foster Mohale.
He continued: “We also offer PrEP for those who are HIV negative and at substantial risk of infection, to avoid/prevent HIV infection. PrEP is offered for unintended exposure such as sexual assault, other accidents, condom burst, and occupational exposure.” Male (max) and female (maxima) condoms with an appropriate water-based lubricant are distributed by the department.
Health Department: Say it with a condom
A key concern, according to Mohale, is preventing teen pregnancies. She made the point that these young mothers’ schooling is frequently disrupted. Many never go back to school because they have to take care of their children.“They may also struggle to get a job due to lack of qualifications or experience. This may affect their future negatively,” said Mohale.
The health department is encouraging people to have safe sex during this festive season, “All provinces and national have awareness activities this whole month, we encourage safe sex and use of condoms correctly and consistently under the slogan #peace of mind, no regrets. We also encourage the use of other contraceptives to prevent unplanned pregnancies,” said Mohale.
According to Michelle Carey, deputy communications manager at TB HIV Care, individuals shouldn’t be embarrassed to discuss the significance of using a condom. “Being coy about discussing one of the most effective ways to stave off everything from STIs and HIV to unwanted pregnancies is a luxury South Africa cannot afford,” said Carey. Risky sexual behaviors continue to be a public health concern in South Africa despite several intervention programs. According to research by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), women were more likely to have used condoms during their most recent sexual experience if they had discussed them with their partner in the previous 12 months.
Young hip-hop artists have been urged by a non-profit organization that focuses on health issues to help make condom use fashionable. Parents, teachers, doctors, religious leaders, and political figures in South Africa who have tried unsuccessfully to persuade youth to condone have found help at Kro Barz. As Kro Barz raps: ‘Anybody can get infected, no exceptions, stay protected.’ This might just deliver the message in a way that a lifetime of warnings from parents, teachers, and preachers has failed to do.
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