Buying condoms, which is likened to a public declaration that one is going to do ‘bad manners’ (read have sex), has remained such a herculean task among both the young and the old.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where sex has been demonised, and people from some quarters even term it evil. Consequently, this wrong perception continues to propagate the ignorance that shrouds sex among Kenyans and Africans in general, in the process, exposing Kenyans to deadly diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Most Kenyans have a negative perception and wrong cultural attitude towards sex. So much so that to most, talking about it is considered taboo. You mention sex and some people squirm.  This state of affairs has lead to an awkward situation whereby some Kenyans find it easier to have sex than talk about it! Many people in relationships and marriage, especially older and conservative ones, can attest to this; they never talk about it, they just have it!

Doing bad manners

As a result, buying condoms, which is likened to a public declaration that one is going to do ‘bad manners’ (read have sex), has remained such a herculean task among both the young and the old. The few ‘courageous’ ones, as one shopkeeper tells this writer, spend hours beating around the bush at shops before inaudibly mumbling things to the effect that they want condoms.   Timothy Ogutu, a shopkeeper in Nairobi, is treated to drama almost daily by customers who come to buy condoms at his shop.

Antics before buying

“I get tickled here almost on a daily basis by Kenyans’ crazy antics before buying condoms. I have had grown men come here and engage me in long-winded tales without getting to the point. Some waste a lot of time here fidgeting, others nervously shift from one leg to the other, and the moment the last customer leaves, you hear them hurriedly mumble, of course as they look over their shoulders, nipe zile (give me those things) as they point at condoms!” he says.

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He adds that the moment he hands them a packet, they hide them and disappear very quickly, perhaps due to embarrassment.  Condoms have the shortest point of purchase time, Ogutu says. “Buying condoms takes a shorter time than anything else. Even shorter than the time it takes to procure contraband like guns and narcotics,” jokes Ogutu.

Women just don’t buy

Men fidget, bite their tongues, stammer, beat around the bush, avoid eye contact and bore the shop keeper with unnecessary long-winded stories but at the end of the day, they buy the damn things. Women don’t. Oh yes, they just don’t buy condoms. Initially, there was a perception that condoms are a man’s item because it’s men who wear them anyway. Thus, women saw no point of risking embarrassment or stigma by buying and walking around with them for health and safety purposes, just in case. But society being fair, and as women became empowered and enlightened, it came up with female condoms.

Flop of female condom

This was meant to give them control over their bodies, especially when dealing with men who are not willing to use condoms. Although female condoms are specially designed to be worn eight hours before intercourse, women have shunned them like the plague. So much so that manufacturers seem to have stopped producing them. In fact, the whole concept of the female condom campaign seems to have flopped soon after it was launched. Sources reveal that most women don’t even know how it looks like; they wouldn’t recognise it even if it hit them right in the face! Women just don’t buy condoms. Period. Be it the male condom or the female condom.

Not that men are doing better on this front, they too should stop fidgeting and just buy the damn things already. I mean, they have guts to buy bhangi, guns and other contraband. What’s so difficult about buying condoms? When asked why she fears buying condoms, even the female ones, Betty Ciku says as much as she wants to practice safe sex and protect her health, she is not only clueless about condoms but also finds buying them shameful.

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Listen to her: “It’s more embarrassing for a woman to buy condoms. Again, much as I would want to risk the embarrassment of buying them, I’m told we have studded ones, flavoured and scented ones and all that, something I have no clue about. I would not want to be seen to know such crazy information.”

She adds that many women buy condoms and walk around with them, but the problem is that you just can’t tell how big or small the man you will end up with is.

Fred Anami confesses to buying condoms but says he can’t do so at a neighbourhood kiosk or where he is known.

Be brave enough

“You can imagine the awkwardness of whipping condoms out of your handbag, only for them to turn out to be too big for the man. That might be a big blow to his self-esteem and you might even bruise his ego so badly that he may not ‘rise to the occasion’ if you know what I mean. Mark you, no man wants to be reminded that he is small!”

Fred Anami confesses to buying condoms but says he can’t do so at a neighbourhood kiosk or where he is known.

“I do buy them, but can’t do so where I live. The shopkeeper will look at me in a bad way,” says Anami and adds, “I can’t buy condoms in a supermarket or a place where I have to queue!”

Rose Ndinda, on the other hand, feels that “...we are so African that women are not supposed to be seen to know more about sex to the extent of walking around with condoms, it just doesn’t look good”.

She adds, “it makes men look at you differently. And when you attempt buying condoms, even the shop attendants give you a weird look. It’s just the way we are socialised.”

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Hassan Nyawanga, a nurse at a clinic in Ruiru Town, says both men and women feel embarrassed buying condoms. He says it's not just women, men as old as 40 feel awkward. But for women its even worse.

“Many women have less bargaining power in matters sex. And for convenience purposes, male condoms are easier to use than female ones. Thus the perceived flop of the female condom campaign,” says Nyawanga.

He adds that men, especially those who are not so ‘blessed’ as far as size is concerned, find it even more embarrassing to ask for the smaller sized condoms.

“Both men and women fear embarrassment. The youth fear being judged for being too young to have sex and the older ones fear being judged because they are assumed to be too old to be having sex. And also, another source of this embarrassment is the fear of being deemed strange or weird especially when buying extra-large condoms or ‘strange’ and ‘unusual’ types, for instance, the flavoured or studded ones,” he says. He concludes by urging Kenyans to be brave enough to buy condoms and says there is no shame in protecting yourself or being mindful of your health or that of your partner.