My grandfather was a stodgy old Welsh man. Short and thick-set, his views on the world were as stubborn to change as his body was. He died at the grand age of 96 surrounded by a world that was vastly different to the quiet village of Pontyprith he had grown up in.
And yet, as different as our worlds were, it was my grandfather who, many years ago during a conversation about a boy I had met, gave me one of the most important tenets of sexual exploration that any adult ever had.
"Dot my girl," he said as he gingerly dunked his biscuit into his afternoon tea, "just remember: If it's not on, it's not in."
I stared at him wide-eyed, silently praying that I had not heard this candid piece of sex advice dropping from my dear grandpa's lips. But just to be sure I got it…
"Condoms, Dot dear," he reiterated slowly. "Con. Domes."
It's been a long time since that sunny afternoon and I have never once failed his advice.
Well, except for a couple of handful of times and those times I was in long-term monogamous relationships (because those don't count right?).
Unprotected sex might be stupid, but it's a reality. Despite the fact of HIV/Aids and other STDs, we all dabble in high-risk behaviour during the course of our sexual lives. In fact, the Health24 2009 sex survey reveals that 59% men and 47% women went bareback the last time they took a new partner.
I'd like to think that in most cases this is because there's a certain optimistic bias that creeps in at the height of sexual arousal; a sort of mutual throwing of caution to the wind because 'oh how lovely we are and what could possibly go wrong if we like each other so'… which is, admittedly, most ignorant.
And yet, there is another sort of ignorance that is jaw-droppingly self-centered and emotionally manipulative, and it is one that South African women – of all races – are particularly exposed to: The Mr Man who refuses to wear a condom. Of the litany of emotionally manipulative reasons he might give for not wearing a condom, my favourite are: "Don't you trust me?", "Don't you love me?" and "It just doesn't feel right." (Neither do genital warts bucko.)
But if condoms were the only issue, we could simply tell Mr Man to pack it up and piss off (assuming you're not married to him). The problem is, it's not just condoms we need to think of anymore. If we want to be totally PC and guarded about our health, we're advised to demand a full STD test before embarking on any sexual escapade with someone new, or go for annual tests if we're in a committed relationship.
But like all good theories, it's difficult to implement. Especially in new relationships.
While we might be able to throw in the 'When last did you go for an HIV/Aids test' conversation between the second date and the third without feeling uncomfortable, asking for a full rap sheet of STD tests when you're not sure where the relationship is going (or if it's going) is still awkward. (Remember, if you're going to do this right, an STD test should be presented even before heavy petting or oral sex.)
It's a conversation we're still new to. We haven't been taught how to ask these questions and how to be comfortable answering them; we're still expected to be polite about people's privacy and not assume too much. Besides, how do you entrench the idea of voluntary STD tests if you can't even get some people to use condoms?
I'm surprised and disappointed that the Health24 survey didn't include the question: Do you ask for a full STD test before engaging sexually with a partner?
I think the results would've been interesting.
For those who are that way inclined – it is hopelessly idealistic and uninformed to toss in abstinence and monogamy as ways to prevent STDs from spreading. Preaching abstinence betrays basic biological and emotional needs, and touting monogamy as an answer assumes that both parties are faithful 100% of the time.
So how do you ask for a full test before you even know where the relationship is going? As a hot-blooded, single adult how do you abstain 100% from all forms of sexual activity (barring kissing) before being handed a certified copy of good health? How do you ask your long-term partner to go for a test?
I wish I knew.
I do know, however, that if grandpa were still around, he'd probably say something awfully pragmatic like "Dot, my girl, if a test isn't done, there's no fun."
Have you ever asked your partner to go for an STD test before engaging sexually? Let us know below…