U.S. should’ve spent $1.4 billion on condoms instead of African abstinence programs


A sign in my hometown of Kebirigo warns people against trusting condoms. Photo: Edwin Okong'o.
A sign in my hometown of Kebirigo warns people against trusting condoms. Photo: Edwin Okong’o.

National Public Radio reports that over the last 12 years, the United States has spent $1.4 billion on an abstinence campaign meant to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa.   NPR reports that the program was a total flop. In the story, John Dietrich, a professor at Bryant University, tells NPR that even from the beginning, “critics worried the abstinence programs would use aid to impose American values on Africans.”

That made me laugh.

I laughed because — having lived in the United States for more than 20 years — I can authoritatively testify that abstinence is NOT an American value. It’s a country where everything is about sex. Premarital sex is something to be proud of. Ask an American young person whether he wants to be know as “sexy” or “intelligent”, and chances are he’d pick the former.

There’s plenty premarital sex with males and with females. There’s premarital vaginal sex, and anal sex, and oral sex. Premarital sex happens in the backseats of cars, and in motels, and on beaches. Sex before marriage features prominently in American movies and television shows, and there’s even more hardcore sex in pornographic films. There’s one-on-one premarital sex, and also group sex.

In America, there’s an insane amount of premarital marital sex with people of European origins, with Africans, with Asians, with Latin Americans. There’s lots of premarital sex with strangers, better known as a one-night-stand. And don’t even get me started on what happens in university dorms.

Say you’re practicing abstinence, and Americans will ridicule you. And those who preach abstinence are often seen as unrealistic, delusional wackos, who don’t want people to have fun.

Most Americans know that there is premarital sex happening everywhere. They know that young people are going to have sex. They seem to admit that premarital sex has become an American value. Having lost the war on premarital sex, America has resorted to condoms to protect its population from HIV/AIDS.

Condoms are available everywhere. Go to a hospital and they will give you a 100 free condoms if you ask for them. Condoms feature prominently in supermarket and drugstore isles. Many single men carry condoms in their wallets, just in case they get unexpectedly lucky.

Even when there have been cases of HIV reported in the pornographic industry, the government doesn’t call for abstinence. Instead, officials suggest passing laws mandating the use of condoms in films.

So, why should such people expect Africans to be abstinent, when the reality is that people of all origins living anywhere in the world love sex? Again, young people are going to have sex. We can’t stop them. We shouldn’t. If we really cared about their sexual health, we’d make sure that they have easy access to condoms.

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