That is the first question that came to mind when I saw the headline ‘Women scramble for anointed condoms’ this week. People are desperately seeking ways to improve their sex life, do they have a performance enhancing effect? Condoms are 98% effective in preventing pregnancy, does anointing them give them that extra 2% boost? Anointing oil is usually used in churches, do anointed condoms provide extra lubrication?
I could not help but picture a horde of respectable-looking three-piece suit clad middle-aged women leaping over pews, racing down the aisle towards the ‘Man of God, while screaming like teenagers at a Justin Bieber concert. The whole scene sounds ridiculous. The headline does what a headline is supposed to do – it grabs you by the collar and drags you into the story. It brings on a barrage of questions and forces you to click and engage.
Having read the story and listened to an interview that Star FM did with Pastor Paul Sanyangore, who said, “There is no one who scrambled”, and that there was never a box of condoms but just two that a female church-goer brought, it is clear that the media was feeding us a juicy angle that had very little to do with what actually took place, if we are to take Pastor Sanyangore’s word. What could have been a relevant (and timely) story about what the role of the church should be in the prevention of the spread of HIV and STIs was twisted into a titbit of gossip where the women are thrown under the bus.
Notwithstanding the issue of how women are portrayed in media, the story is still worth exploring as it brings up issues of contraception, HIV prevention and the role of the church in each of these.
Getting back to the real issue
As I listened to Sanyangore’s radio interview I found myself nodding and agreeing with much of what he said. He is a personable individual. His views are sometimes bizarre and other times well considered.
On why he prayed for the condoms:
“HIV has two sides. There’s the physical side and the spiritual side… My prayer addresses the demon; the condom addresses the physical side. We are just working together.”
In response to the question of whether the church should be talking about the issue:
“To me it became an opportunity to address chinhu chatirikutya kutaura (something we are afraid to discuss)as a church.”
Zimbabwe’s Christians are said to make up about 85% of the population. While the figures are difficult to verify there is no doubt that the Christian Church and its leadership exerts a great deal of influence over a large portion of society. In most churches, whatever the denomination, the majority of members are women. They are women of varying ages, income brackets and education levels, all gathering for one reason, regularly.
HIV is a social issue and not a demon. It is a virus that affects your immune system. The Church has a role to play in helping to resolve it, particularly in Africa where people still struggle to accept their status because of the stigma attached. A great example of the difference that the Church can make is this black African congregation in London which offers free testing and counselling to attendees after church. What if Mothers’ Union meetings had an HIV talk on the agenda? What if testing centres were set up monthly in churches around the country? What if you put a condom dispenser in the women’s bathroom?
Before we can see any of that happening there needs to be a shift in people’s mind-sets. Firstly, there must be a move away from the belief that sexual issues must be restricted to the bedroom. Sex is just as relevant to society as politics and money are. Secondly, there needs to be open conversation about HIV prevention. Finally, there needs to be a recognition that women and girls need to become empowered in sexual matters and part of that includes educating them about their sexuality. The Church can either help or it can hinder the process of mind-set change.
Taking sex out of the bedroom
In my experience, people tend to be quite reticent about discussing their sex lives, particularly within the walls of the Church. It is a topic that is whispered about behind hands and spoken of for the first time at a kitchen tea and then never again after your last baby shower. It is an intimate and notoriously difficult issue, partly because it is very personal but also because of its complexity.
Instead of being a place where a negative view of sex is always presented, the Church can be a place that promotes a positive view where there’s a move away from ‘Don’ts’ and towards ‘Dos’. Instead of preaching to wives about how to please their husbands so they don’t commit adultery, why not teach men to be faithful to their wives? Rather than Bible bashing the youth about the evils of fornication, why not teach young women and men to make empowered choices about their sexuality?
There is a gap that needs to be bridged between what is being preached from the pulpit and the everyday lived reality of people. People spend hours in cold building and hard pews listening to a priest expound on the chaste life of Mary the mother of Jesus and it is clear that he does not get it. He does not get it because he has been celibate all of his life (or has made us believe he has been). He preaches modesty to women but does not know what it is like to walk down the street in loose jeans and a hoodie and be cat-called by men all the way from your gate to the bus rank and back.
Condoms should also be in the church
On my way home the other day I stopped by the supermarket to buy groceries. The man in front of me had three items in his basket – a can of deodorant, a bottle of lotion and a box of condoms. I think it is great that he is taking steps to protect himself and his partner. But I wonder, would a woman in his position have the same confidence to buy her supply of condoms for the month like she does her toothpaste and tampons?
Women find themselves in a strange position. On the one hand, we have to deal with media that hyper-sexualises women and a society that constantly directs sexual aggression towards us. And on the other hand, despite all of this we are expected to maintain the illusion that we are ignorant of all things sexual and conform to society’s standard of female chastity which includes the idea that a ‘lady’ cannot be seen to be someone who makes use of condoms.
This is further complicated by the views of the Roman Catholic Church regarding condom use. In 2009, Pope Benedict remarked that ‘HIV is a tragedy which cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem’ . This, in spite of evidence that condom use has reduced the spread of HIV.
There is also a belief, not grounded in scientific evidence, that condoms encourage promiscuity. The fact that the Bible teaches abstinence before marriage and monogamy in marriage means that people struggle to figure out where condoms fit in with their convictions. The first step in resolving this conundrum is to recognise the fact that condoms are not intrinsically evil – some people need to hear that. Some people need to understand the fact that if you see condoms on my bathroom counter that does not mean that I have been possessed by a sex demon. Condoms are a tool, specifically a tool of protection.
I can think of three reasons why a married Christian woman would opt to use a condom. Firstly, as a form of birth control , condoms have been proven to be the most effective method. Secondly where either she, or her husband, or both have been diagnosed as HIV positive and she decides to use protection. Finally, where the relationship is not monogamous and she wants to protect herself from possible infection.
The moment that the woman in Sanyangore’s church took out those condoms to ask if she could use them with her husband was a very significant one. Firstly, it challenged the idea that sexual issues belong outside of the church and not in it. Secondly, it challenged the idea that a woman cannot take control of her sex life. It was a moment that she left feeling empowered or disempowered.
Do you feel empowered? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.
Main image taken from www.zimetro.com