BY ANA P. SANTOS
“What do you do if your condom breaks?”
That was the question I asked my audience of call center students during the interactive game portion of the sexual health workshop that I was conducting.
This question is set in a lively game of question-and-answer where I gave out anything from condoms to baller IDs and notebooks for correct answers to similar questions like: True or false? A condom is like a diamond, it lasts forever. (In case you’re wondering, a condom has an expiration date, proving once again that only a diamond lasts forever.) Think “Bring Me” with a sexual twist.
The sudden silence and the shrinking in their seats said it all. They were stumped. What do you do if your condom breaks?
This is what usually follows. At some point, someone will venture guesses like, “Put on another one?” or “Isn’t that why you double bag it?”
Most vivid in my mind is when one gentleman’s hand shot up in the air and he said, “I know! I know!” in an eagerly desperate manner similar to how kids raise their hand in a grade school classroom waving, “Pick me! Pick me!”
When acknowledged to give his answer, he beamed triumphantly, “You pray!”
Keep your (sex) questions coming
It’s a response I have gotten every so often in the course of conducting this workshop over the last 3 years. For the most part, it breaks the ice and signals to the rest of the participants that no question is too basic or too dumb to be asked, it’s okay to be confused, and most importantly, it is perfectly fine to ask and okay not to know.
It’s an environment that allows us to discuss misconceptions like how jumping after having sex will not prevent pregnancy. Again, there is laughter at this ludicrous thought, until I tell them that I was seriously asked that question by a young graduate who wondered why his girlfriend still got pregnant when they made sure she jumped after sex and even took a shower after.
One participant was particularly disturbed when I advised using a condom during oral sex to protect against STIs. Indignantly, he interrupted me, “Wait, wait, wait. So you mean to say you can get an STI from oral sex?” When I confirmed this, in shock and disbelief, he muttered, “Oh sh*t.” It was almost a whisper, but it was enough for the rest of the class to hear it and make them laugh.
Some men will say they don’t want to use condoms because none are big enough to fit their size to which I always quip, “But they weren’t meant to go over your testicles.”
Candid talk, banter, humor and games like a race to put on a condom make up the merry mix of activities in this sexual health workshop that is meant to show, not tell.
For many, it is the first kind of workshop like this for them to attend and the only kind of sex education they have received.
It is not unusual for girls to open up in private later about how they tried to see a doctor about going on the Pill but were told to “just abstain since you’re too young to be having sex anyway.”
Some will say they’re too embarrassed to buy condoms. One participant cited an instance when he was in line in a convenience store and a guy in front of him bought a handful of condoms. Once he was out of earshot, the cashiers looked at one another and said, “Grabe! Ang libog naman nun!” [That guy must be really horny!]
The judgment, thinly veiled as condemnation, was enough to deter him from buying condoms.
There were many other societal prohibitions so deeply entrenched in our culture that people just accepted them. When it came to birth control, it was easier to practice withdrawal and hope for the best, but to expect the worst. And in between periods, to pray.
Prayer as birth control?
For a larger part of the population, prayer is the only available form of birth control.
Some women do not have negotiating power and feel it is their partner’s entitlement to use their bodies as they wish (Read how “gamitin” is a euphemism for sex.) They risk a beating if they don’t agree to sex.
For others, the choice is a matter of daily survival. If you make P100 a day, it’s not hard to decide to forego buying a condom or a pack of pills. And still others feel it’s simply God’s will that they continue to be blessed with many children.
As one enlightened street vendor who was interviewed said, “I used to pray not to get pregnant with another child. The condom worked better.”
RH Law: The great equalizer
Education is a great equalizer. But so is ignorance — at least when it comes to proper information about sexual health. As seen in my classes, being educated doesn’t mean you’re informed.
Much has already been said about the RH Law and I’m not going to belabor the point, but I will say that it signals the start where education can be the equalizer that it truly is meant to be. It will hopefully secure the education young people need to make the right choices that will affect their future.
Which brings me to another point. The RH Law also recognizes the one argument that really matters: respect for one’s personal choice. More than religious, moral and scientific, the RH Bill was hinged on safeguarding everyone’s individual right to choose when to have children, how many, or to even have them at all.
Even with the bill now a law, it’s not the time to sit on our laurels and pat ourselves on the back. Already, the petition before the Supreme Court shows that the fight has just begun. The second phase of this fight will require vigilance to ensure implementation, scrutiny of budget appropriation, and continuously fighting for our right to take control over the decisions that will affect us most.
It sends out another sign: science and empirical evidence will always trump religion when it comes to biology. It confirms that prayer is not a form of birth control. And with the RH Bill now signed and enacted into law, prayer doesn’t have to be the only form of birth control available.
This was also published here.