Sexually active teenagers in Liberia generally have a naïve perception of what sex is and rarely know the physical effect of having unprotected sex with multiple partners.
“We weren’t taught anything about sex but learned from experience. In LIB, once you tell a girl that you want her, she’ll give you chance. It can be that easy,” stated a union of teenage boys hanging around a popular spot in New Kru Town.
Michael Teah, a local video club operator at Point Four says his sexual experiences with women are frequent and he faults his present job as the cause. According to him, some women stay after his video club is closed in hopes of a sleeping place, food or a little money in place of a sexual favor.
“I take safe sex seriously. I’m active and make sure to use my condom each time and because of that I have no children yet. Most girls get confused when they see me taking it out of my pocket when we’re about to have sex, but they know my feelings can go if they don’t like using it and we won’t have sex,” he shared.
Now 19 years old, Michael says he has contracted an STI twice since he became sexually active three years ago. According to him, his parents became aware of his sexual activities the day he complained of his penis burning.
“It was painful to urinate, all around my [behind] had sores as well. Whenever I urinated, my entire body would burn at the same time. I don’t know how I got infected with an STI, but I vowed to never catch that kind of thing again,” he added.
At the moment, Redemption hospital has a record of teenage girls and women who are on their family planning program. Apart from birth control measures and HIV/AIDS testing, the program provides coaching on the use of condoms and other safe measures in protecting oneself from sexually transmitted diseases.
A certified midwife, who has for the past several years focused on registered family planning patients at Redemption hospital, says the lack of condom usage in their patients is alarming.
Though the patients are given free and effective condoms that rarely cause allergic reactions when used, she said, a lot of the women refuse to use it.
“Men think the desire they expect to feel won’t be felt if they wear a condom while having sex. We have to educate all of our patients on why using condoms is very important. But still, when they come for their annual checkups, many come back with
STI’s because of not using condoms. We have to always remind them that that it’s not the birth control method causing the infection but rather having too much un-protected sex,” she shared.
According to the midwife, who asked that her name not be mention but rather her title, men are more likely the reason why women refuse to use condoms.
“There are so many STI’s, Chlamydia and Trichomoniasis being the most common, Gonorrhea falling in third place. These infections cause a burning sensation in both men and women and can have very painful and life threatening long term effects if left untreated,” she shared.
Roseline Toe, a single mother of three living in the Duala community, says she was once on family planning, but due to the discomfort of taking birth control pills, she stopped.
“I was on planning for five years and had two children at the time. But by 2010, my body was thinning and I had no appetite and ended up leaving it. While on planning, I was not using condoms because I knew I couldn’t get pregnant and ended up getting infections before because of it,” she said.
“Whenever I contracted an infection, I never went to the hospital because I thought it was just ‘itchy fish’ and treated myself at home. I used a condom before and it was okay, but I no longer use them because the ones being sold are expired and have so many defaults that can cause pregnancy and infections,” she revealed.
Roseline has an 18-month-old toddler who, she says, came as a result of not taking birth control for so many years and having unprotected sex.
“It’s not easy taking care of my children alone. I think I had a choice to use condoms, but having a child that you haven’t planned for is not so bad,” she admits. “So most times who cares about condoms because whether you use it or not, you’ll still get some kind of problem. What if it burst?”