Condoms seem to have some bad rap in Sri Lanka.
According to an island wide survey carried out by the Ministry of Health and the UNFPA, some young people believe that if their partner suggests using a condom, they are must be cheating them.
Perhaps it’s the fervid awareness building Sri Lanka has been carrying out since the 1970s. Campaigns by the ministry of health included media advertisements, stickers in buses and even providing free condoms at public health clinics. Their pitch was not only for preventing unwanted pregnancies but also for protecting against contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STD).
How condoms have helped
Condoms have indeed been effective in promoting family planning and containing STDs, HIV/AIDS in particular, to a very small percentage over the years.
The deadly virus was first reported in Sri Lanka in 1986 when it was discovered in blood samples of a foreign national.
Today, those afflicted with HIV in Sri Lanka add up to only 0.1% of the population. By December of 2011, 1,463 HIV positive persons were reported in the country. It is quite possible that more people carrying HIV are not accounted for.
Of all the contraceptives in use, condoms considered one of the best as they are 98% effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies and STDs, provided they are used correctly and consistently.
The female condom is just as efficient, but it isn’t as freely available or distributed for free.
[facts about condoms infographic]
The misconceptions among youth
Despite condoms being one of the most widely available contraceptives in Sri Lanka, some young people are reluctant to use them because of the negativity surrounding them.
The ‘Situation Assessment of Condom Programming in Sri Lanka 2015’ report by the Ministry of Health and the UNFPA, reveals some rather worrying views youth in Sri Lanka have of condoms.
In general, state university students in Sri Lanka seem to think that condoms encourages population control (which they find undesirable) and that condoms should not be distributed for free as it would promote very young people to indulge in sexual activity.
The report states: “They agreed with the negative perceptions of the community and thought that condoms should be used by the people who are have the possibility to acquire STIs; MSM (men having sex with men), sex workers and armed forces personnel”.
When these young adults were asked what alternatives they could use if they did not have a condom, they responded saying people should plan around the girls’ menstrual cycle and have sex when she is least likely to conceive. This is a very unreliable form of contraception apart from that fact that it won’t protect against STDs.
You may not believe it, but it was also suggested that a balloon should be used if a condom cannot be acquired!
The third alternative was the use of postinor (an emergency contraception pill) after sex. Again, this is not going to protect them against STDs. While it is 95% effective in preventing pregnancy, it has serious side effects.
In the rural areas, the use of condoms is generally lower. While survey respondents were aware of what condoms are and the dual protection provided by these, none of the youth who were interviewed had ever used a condom before. And only a few knew how to use it.
How to use a condom
Information about how to use a condom is printed on the packet. We interviewed a young person from a leading boys’ school in Sri Lanka who said he followed the printed instructions when he first used a condom.
“We weren’t taught how to use the condom in school. The first time I used a condom I just followed the step-by-step instructions on the packet. That seemed to be good enough”, he said.
Of course, if anyone finds the information on the packet confusing or would like know about it there is ample information online. Like this video, that is in Sinhala which clearly demonstrates how to use it. And a video by a Rotract Club that provides information on how to buy a condom.
Unfortunately, those in rural areas might not be in a position to access this information as there are limitations such as access to a computer and the internet. Let’s hope Project Loon is set up here some time soon.
In the meantime, we need to work on dispelling negative attitudes that link condoms to promiscuity. A condom is simply an effective device for preventing unwanted pregnancies and STDs.