I was a bundle of nerves the first time I took an HIV test. It took me months to muster the courage (it was a lot) I needed to walk to that corner in the hospital where tests for STIs are done. It helped that one of my closest friends agreed to take the HIV test with me. We had each other for moral support.
As Bhutanese, we love telling the bawdiest sexual jokes in many inappropriate situations without batting an eyelid, but almost all of us get self-conscious and uncomfortable when the conversation switches to responsible sex. The fact that sex is a joke even if many of us are having it makes it difficult to be responsible for ourselves, and our own health. Although both my friend and I tested negative for HIV and other STIs, we didn’t talk about it with other people. Most of us are quite dishonest about our first sexual experiences, and many of us have started out earlier than we would like to admit to the world. We lie about our sexual experiences, and then struggle to be responsible for ourselves because we are afraid of being judged by friends, family, and society.
I am all for “sexuality education” in schools. That is what they teach in the Netherlands starting with students as young as four. Students are not being taught sex, they are being taught sexuality: Self- expression, gender identity, boundaries, etc. Studies, including a recent one at Georgetown University have confirmed that comprehensive sex education that begins at the primary level help prevent unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and STIs.
On World Aids Day, the Health Ministry shared that the country has 28 new HIV cases, and that most of the new HIV cases were sexually transmitted. “Sexuality Education” helps people communicate/ negotiate better with each other, and this is so important when it comes to sex. We need to be able to want, and communicate safe sex. It should no longer be challenging for us to ask a potential mating partner if he/ she is free of STIs, and it should be made difficult for a person living with HIV or other STIs to lie about their status or indulge in irresponsible or unprotected sex.
Any person who infects someone else while knowing fully well that he/ she is HIV positive should be criminalised. Many countries in the world have done this and graded the act as murder or voluntary manslaughter: Finland, Germany, New Zealand, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States are some examples. We can no longer be naïve or play coy. Otherwise, we will have 20 more HIV cases next year. And the bawdy sexual jokes that have us laughing now will have us crying.