He called me an evangelist. I didn’t know if that was an insult or a compliment. Either way- it stuck. Followed me around and crept up when I was thinking, when I was talking, when I was listening. I wanted to understand what he meant. I wanted to know if he understood. Or if this box he had put me in was how he was forever going to relate. Never going to actually listen, but instead focus on labelling me and building this box that in the end I felt caged me in.

When you start talking about sexuality- sexual and reproductive health rights, sexual orientation, survival sex, sex work, women and sex, anything to do with sex a box starts to build around you. A label is bandied across and latches itself onto you. A label that stings, a label much worse than ‘evangelist.’ In cultures where women and girls should not talk about sex, talking about sex becomes shaky ground to walk on. Breaking the silence to talk about taboo issues, well, you might become taboo yourself.

When it comes to HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa, the numbers are climbing, and march along a gendered path that is impossible to ignore. Women and girls account for 60% of HIV infections and young women are there times more likely to be infected with HIV than men. But because the most common form of transmission is sexual, because it involves the s word, no one wants to frankly discuss it. While some progress is made, condoms are dished out and the billboards go up that say get tested, stay safe. No one wants to say that the ABC approach is not enough. It needs to go deeper than that. No one wants to bring up why the female condom still costs much more and is less available than the male condom. No one wants to address the haunting stigma that comes when a woman wants to take control of her sexuality. Because bringing this up is hard. Because of labels like: promiscuous, wild, untamed, sinful. Throw in religion and culture and you have a pot of politics that works hard to silence discussion, to tame the ‘wild’, to cleanse the ‘sinful’.

But you see Pulsewire lets you beat your own drum, lets you unwrap the labels foisted on you and speak from the depths. It this drumming that I choose to respond to. Last week I read a blogging series on sexuality and stigma. Women came out and told their stories. Stories that involved sex, vulnerability, oppression - the ability to rise and survive. This is the spirit of online communities and Pulsewire that let women tell their story, pen their pain and challenge the labels. I am inspired by the resilient women courageously and unabashedly talking about sex and all that comes with it; working tirelessly to fight the HIV crisis to take control, assert and negotiate - without a label, without the box.

Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future Application: Challenges and Solutions to Creating Change.

Comment on this Post


"Pulsewire lets you beat your own drum, lets you unwrap the labels foisted on you and speak from the depths." Exactly! and you are so right about the reluctance of people to discuss sex and the issues that surrounds it. With proper education, you will be amazed with the number of lives that can be saved. Well done dear!


Your writing really describes the taboo of talking about sex in your community and how speaking up can put you in a box. I feel your enthusiasm about Pulsewire! I also feel your frustration that "Women and girls account for 60% of HIV infections" yet so much more needs to be done, and is hindered by the labels and silence. Do you plan to get women from your community to join Pulsewire? Do many women in your community have internet access? I look forward to hearing more about what you see as solutions for your community given these open discussions online.



Hi DD,

Thanks for your comments. The reality is that internet access is still a privilege for many. However, this also means it serves as an important platform to get your voice out, to thrust the issues out there so that conversations are triggered, within the online discussions and beyond. If the alarming figures, the issues, the high stakes are humanized and contextualised online, then offline, there is hope. The web has become a crucial entry point and advocacy tool and I am learning so much from the wonderful network of sisters on Pulsewire that I can take with me.


Your writing is powerful, your understanding is keen, and your work is very important. Thank you for sharing your struggles in such a well-written essay. Your honesty will continue to challenge and overcome the confining labels you're encountering.

I commend you for taking a stand against oppression and wanting to educate others about sex and HIV. There are so many communities out there that have different views on sex, but not discussing it, does not make it go away. I think your community is really blessed to have someone like you who strongly wants to educate others about HIV, and I think it's admirable that you have started with yourself, by going into different blogs and rading about the oppression other communities have faced, especially women. You have a strong voice and are a true role model to us all! :D

"I embrace emerging experience. I am a butterfly. Not a butterfly collector." - Stafford

Thank you so much for your kind words. The HIV crisis, is feminized largely because no one wants to discuss sex, and how economic, social and cultural understandings, constructs and often disempowerment of women affects the dynamics, the risks and the vulnerability to infection. Its considered easier not to discuss it, but the consequences are so devastating.

Your encouragement means a lot!