It has been highly rated to protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections by the World Health Organisation. According to health experts, Male condoms, when properly used are 98 per cent effective at preventing pregnancies. Findings by PUNCH Healthwise, however, showed that many married women that want their husbands to use this family planning commodity are afraid of buying it for them due to fear of being stigmatized or branded as promiscuous ANGELA ONWUZOO reports
They are considered the most effective barrier that protects against sexually transmitted diseases but importantly, one among the many family planning methods that are readily suggested to women, especially at primary healthcare centres during antenatal or routine child immunization.
Ironically, PUNCH Healthwise discovered that an alarming number of husbands do not like to use condoms or have their wives buy or bring them home from PHCs where they are most times distributed.
Elizabeth Izuchukwu, 33, still regrets buying a pack of condoms for her husband from a nearby pharmacy on July 17, 2020.
The mother of three said she had been using the injectable method of family planning but due to the outbreak of COVID-19, she was afraid to visit the hospital for a shot of the contraceptive for fear of contracting the viral infection.
Not comfortable with the withdrawal method suggested by her husband, the businesswoman who said she was afraid of getting pregnant so soon, appealed to her husband to start using condoms.
Though he vehemently refused, he, however, promised to give the suggestion a thought.
“He told me that using a condom will make sex uninteresting but said he would think about it. He said I should give him some time to buy some.
“When after three months failed to buy, out of concern, I went to a pharmacy and bought the condom for him,” she said.
Sharing her frustration with PUNCH Healthwise, Izuchukwu said that singular act almost broke her home.
The woman told our correspondent that she got a terrible response from her husband, which she was yet to get over.
With a pained expression, she recounted, “That fateful day, I went to a pharmacy where I usually buy drugs for the whole family and requested for a condom with very good quality. The pharmacist smiled and gave me the one that he felt my husband would like.”
“With that assurance, I was expecting my husband to appreciate my sincere effort, since it was the first time I was buying something like that for him.
“Unfortunately, the reverse was the case. Later at night when we wanted to make love, out of excitement, I told him that I have a surprise for him and he was happy. But when I brought out the condom and gave it to him, he screamed and asked me if I have become a prostitute. He also wanted to know how many men that have slept with me. He said that he never knew that he had been married to a prostitute all the while.
“At that point, I was lost and confused. I tried to explain to him that I bought it to avoid getting pregnant but he wouldn’t listen. At the time, my last child was eight months old.
“I cried from that night till morning because the words he said and the questions he asked were too agonizing to bear. My pillow was soaked with tears.
“By morning, I was so traumatised and couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t get over what happened no matter how hard I tried.”
The housewife said subsequently, his attitude towards her changed and he became a total stranger.
“This was all because I was trying to protect myself from becoming pregnant for the fourth time,” she sobbed, wiping tears off her face with the edge of her wrapper.
“What made it worse for me was that friends and family members also reacted negatively when he told them. Some of them questioned my action and said it was wrong. They blamed me for taking the action. It’s sad that women don’t have control over their bodies when it comes to sex and having children with their husbands in our society,” she said.
According to an online portal, Cleveland Clinic, condoms are the only way to protect against sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV and herpes.
“As a barrier method of birth control, condoms stop sperm from reaching eggs. There are condoms for men and women, and dental dams for protection during oral sex. For more effective birth control, you can use condoms with contraceptive foam. They also greatly reduce the chance of pregnancy.
“Condom sizes range from small to extra-large. It’s important to choose a condom that fits properly. In addition to being uncomfortable, an ill-fitting condom can reduce condom effectiveness, increasing your risk of pregnancy and STDs”, it stated.
Meanwhile, studies have shown that self-efficacy, autonomy, partner communication, positive attitude to condoms and condom use skills promote condom use.
Bitterness and jealousy
Another housewife, who simply identified herself as Kate, also shared a similar experience.
She said after the birth of her second child, she suggested the use of condoms for intimacy but her husband refused.
“My husband insisted on using the withdrawal method. I was afraid it will disappoint us one day. Since I was not ready to have another baby yet, I decided to buy the condom myself. When I gave it to him, his mood changed.
“At first, he was shocked and said it was a joke. But after I explained to him that it is better than the withdrawal method and can prevent pregnancy, he said I should keep the explanation to myself.
“He was quite bitter that night. This happened on October 22, 2021. I won’t forget that date. Since then, my husband changed towards me. He started suspecting that I could be having an affair. He became inquisitive and extremely jealous.
“He started suspecting and questioning every of my move. He would want to know who called me on the phone and sometimes, treats me like an enemy,” she said.
Withdrawal method ineffective for birth control – medical experts
Experts that spoke with our correspondent insisted that the withdrawal method, which is also known as ‘pullout’, is an ineffective method of birth control with a very high failure rate.
A Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Ituku-Ozalla, Enugu State, Dr. Uche Agu, told PUNCH Healthwise that couples should not depend on this method for family planning.
The Associate Professor said it has been noted to be quite unreliable for pregnancy prevention.
PUNCH Healthwise discovered that women who are given condoms at the PHCs in Lagos State during routine immunisation of their newborn also shared similar experiences with those who took up the gauntlet to personally purchase condoms for their spouses.
It was learnt that they were also accused of infidelity by their spouses, who stuck to their guns not to use protection during intimacy.
A mother of four, who simply identified herself as Agatha, for fear of stigmatisation, told our correspondent that her husband, though educated, exhibited a very bad attitude as soon as he saw her with condoms.
The 38-year-old baker said, “He asked what gave me the courage to collect condoms from health officials at the PHC and bring it for him to use. He told me that he would never use a condom during intimacy with his wife.
“He warned me never to bring them to his house again if I don’t want to see another side of him. Later, he threw them away. He felt very insulted by my action. After that experience, I stopped collecting them any time I take my baby for immunisation.”
For Mrs. Afusatu Akande, a mother of five, bringing home packs of condoms given to her at the Ogungbaiye Primary Health Centre, Mushin, when she went to immunise her three-month-old daughter against polio, led to a big fight in her home.
According to the primary school teacher, “During the quarrel, my husband accused me of infidelity and made derogatory remarks about the condoms.
“He said no hospital can give condoms to any woman, especially a wife. He accused me of having a boyfriend who uses them. He claimed that it was my boyfriend that gave them to me, not the PHC.
“Taking condoms home can cause a quarrel. This is why some women refuse to collect them. Some collect with the intention to throw them away. “
Similarly, Mrs. Feranmi Otunuga and other women that spoke with PUNCH Healthwise said their husbands got angry when they suggested the use of condoms during intimacy.
Otunuga said, “When I took my three-month-old baby for immunisation at CMS PHC, Ilaje, Bariga in February this year, I was given six pieces of condoms. When I gave it to my husband, he vowed not to use them. The condoms are still in our wardrobes. He did not quarrel with me about it.”
Nothing wrong with women buying condoms-Experts
Meanwhile, PUNCH Healthwise discovered that some women feel it is abominable to buy condoms for their husbands.
Health experts, however, said there is nothing wrong with women buying condoms for their husbands to protect against STDs and unplanned pregnancies.
The Medical Director, General Hospital, Harvey Road, Lagos, Dr. Yetunde Sotunde, said the action is not wrong but should be encouraged.
She said, “I am a woman and the onus is on us as women to take care of ourselves. Our well-being, which is our responsibility, should not be given to somebody else. So, if you feel that you have a need for a condom, which can be to protect yourself against sexually transmitted diseases or for family planning, whatever it is needed for, why can’t you go out and buy it?
“You will be more at peace with yourself. You will even enjoy the sexual act better knowing that you are well protected. If you are not sure of your husband’s attitude, maybe you have been seeing some funny text messages in his phone, why not use a condom.”
Refused at PHCs
Visits to Ogudu, Okota, Sura, Oshodi- Isolo, and CMS PHCs, all in Lagos State, showed that condoms are freely distributed during routine immunization exercises.
It was, however, gathered from the health workers that despite being counselled about the importance of condoms, most women refuse to accept them, while a few will collect only, to throw them away before they get home.
A health worker in one of the PHCs, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said they have received reports of men harassing their wives for collecting condoms.
“Actually, the condoms are meant for the men but they don’t come to the PHCs to collect them. So what we do is give them to the women when they bring their babies for immunisation. Unfortunately, for some women, it becomes a source of trouble when they get home,” she said.
The health worker also revealed that some women are afraid to take up any family planning method to prevent unplanned pregnancies due to fear.
“There are instances where a woman will come today to get a contraceptive, and tomorrow she is back at the centre to have it removed because her husband doesn’t want it. We are happy that lately, a lot of women are now doing it without the consent of their husbands.”
Limited sexual education
According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, sexual education programmes are sidelined and restricted in Africa.
“Adolescents also have limited knowledge on preventing pregnancy and there is also the reluctance of nurses and educators to provide SRH services and sexuality education.
“Furthermore, gender norms and culture are also associated with taboos about sexual and reproductive health, seeking SRH services and making informed decisions about SRH. Many adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to modern methods of contraception”, the US agency said.
Female medical experts that spoke with PUNCH Healthwise said men should stop having negative perceptions about women’s choices when it comes to their health, stressing that preventing unplanned pregnancy which can also be done through the use of condoms would help the physical and mental well-being of women.
Change of perception
Dr. Sotunde insisted that the onus was on women to take care of their well-being and sexual rights, and not to leave it in the hands of another individual.
She said, “It will protect you. If you don’t want to have children anymore or want to space and plan your family and your husband does see any need for that, why not go and buy condoms for him? But you can talk to him. It must be with the understanding of both partners. It has to be based on trust. I think as a woman, the onus is on you to protect yourself, protect your physical and mental well-being.
“We need to have a change of perception in the way people see women that come forward to buy condoms. For men, it is a normal thing. They will even scream the name at the pharmacy.
The physician urged the media to step up awareness on the issue in order to change negative perceptions about women going to buy condoms for their husbands or partners, so as to protect against STDs and unplanned pregnancies.
“We want an environment where a woman that wants to protect herself or that wants to have a robust sex life with her spouse, can boldly do so. This will reduce incidences of STDs and unplanned pregnancies “, she added.
Women hardly buy condoms
A Community pharmacist, Biola Paul-Ozieh, told PUNCH Healthwise that women hardly go to pharmacies to buy condoms.
The one-time past Chairman of the Association of Community Pharmacists, Lagos State chapter, said, “It is only in few cases that we see that. But men buy condoms most of the time for themselves.
“Few women come to buy condoms for their husbands and I have seen couples that come together to demand for condoms. There is nothing wrong with a woman going to buy a condom for her husband.
“It is just about a woman saying, I am a party to this act, we want to space our children. We have to understand too that condoms can be used as child spacing devices. It is even a thing that should be commended when a woman gets a condom for her husband to space their children.
“We should encourage women to do that. It is no longer something that should be left for the men to do alone. Women too can go and get it. It is very affordable.”
She advised those whose husbands have refused to use condoms to suggest other methods of family planning.
A matron at Deji Clinic Limited in Lagos, Mrs. Grace Olawore said it is important for a woman to protect herself, especially if she finds out the man is the type that goes around with other women.
“You have to protect yourself. Secondly, if you are not ready to have an unplanned pregnancy, you need to protect yourself, but only if the man will collect it from you when you buy it. Nigerian men don’t use condoms at home but when they go outside, they use them.
“They don’t use condoms at home because they believe they have paid dowry and own the woman. Now, a lot of women are coming for family planning without the consent of their husbands and without their husbands’ knowledge. They want to protect themselves against unplanned pregnancies. The problem is that when a woman buys a condom, the man will not collect it from her. It is not in our culture for a woman to buy a condom for her husband. But if you are at risk of STDs or unplanned pregnancy, please go and buy condoms for him. “
Women are not bold to talk about sex
A Health Management Organisation Officer, Mrs. Grace Osunfuyi, also said there is nothing wrong with a woman buying condoms for her husband to prevent unplanned pregnancy.
She said, “Basically for me, there is nothing wrong with that. Also, I want to say that it depends on the understanding of the couple. Some women are shy when it comes to the issue of sex due to culture and the environment. Some women are shy to talk about sex, let alone condoms. Most of the time, they leave it for the men to do.
“I have a family planning clinic and some ladies prefer to use condoms while others don’t. There must be understanding between concerned couples. Also, the environment is not helping. I know of a woman whose husband said she must not initiate sex. He said it makes him feel she is wayward. That is the type of environment that we have found ourselves in.
“Women are not bold enough to talk about sex and they are not bold to take certain decisions, especially when it comes to their sexual health. From interactions, some men don’t want to use condoms at all”, Osufunyi said.
In a 2018 study published in BMC Research Note titled, “Determinants of condom use among parous women in North Central and South Western Nigeria: a cross-sectional survey”, the researchers said condom use has numerous health benefits.
“Studies have shown that correct and consistent use of condoms is effective in preventing unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
“Of all contraceptive methods, a condom is the only method that protects an individual from acquiring STIs. Condoms have the advantages of ease of access, ease of use, and relatively few side effects compared to other modern contraceptive methods.
“However, several barriers impinge on the use of condoms, among which are the perceived reduction in sexual pleasure, a negative cultural norm about condoms, religion, gender inequality, lack of partner communication, lack of motivation, cost and lack of knowledge,” it stated.
“A Canadian study showed that people were more likely to rate their most recent sex as “very pleasurable” when condoms were not used compared to when condoms were used. There is also evidence that the condom has negative symbolism in some sub-Saharan African settings.
“In these settings, some people believe that condom use promotes sexual promiscuity, or is suggestive of filth, disease, infidelity and mistrust. The stigma attached to the use of condoms in these settings could prevent women from using condoms,” the study further stated.