How Slutshaming Can Prevent Access To Lifesaving Care

One of my favourite series on safe sex, HIV and reproductive health has to be the MTV Shuga franchise. I love how it centers African youth in its breakdown of issues pertaining to abortion, grooming, teen pregnancy and rape. 

It is one of the few series out there where African youths can see our realities adequately represented in such topics.

The series also sheds light on how slut shaming and shaming sexually active women and girls in particular, can prevent them from being able to access lifesaving care. And this can happen even from medical personnel who should know better. In one of the episodes of MTV Shuga Naija Season Two, a young lady went with her friend to the clinic to enquire about safe sex methods and the nurse started shouting and threatened to report them to their parents.

Now, what I find interesting is that the young lady in question was been groomed and asked for sex by a much older man who had no business approaching schoolgirls for sex. 

This man went on to be violent to her and very condescending to her parents. I have wondered what would have happened if the medical personnel themselves had nipped it in the bud when she came in the first time. I have wondered if they could have counselled her about issues like grooming when she revealed who she intended sleeping with. 

Instead, they shamed her and let her stay so long with a man like that without any professional advice to hold as a mirror against the friends who were advicing her not to sleep with him.

In issues concerning women’s health, I have often wondered about the role shame and the fear of been shamed by others plays in the choices women and especially teen girls make.

How many teenage pregnancies will be avoided if topics like sex and abortion were not seen as things that lessened the value of a young woman? How many women including married women will be able to plan out how they give birth if medical personnel didn’t shame women or see women wanting contraception as things they must do side by side their husbands? 

Furthermore, how many women would not have lost lives if medical personnel didn’t see them as automatically guilty because they got pregnant while unmarried even if they were mature women at 30?

We speak on medical negligence but we hardly speak on the negligence that happens to women because medical personnel and even random people cannot fathom the reality that a woman is also a sexual being.

We do not speak enough on the severe cases of post partum depression that could have been treated better if the medical personnel didn’t have it at the back of their mind that: “After all this sadness, you will still enjoy it and come back for ante-natal in a year’s time”. 

And why is that? Why are women shamed for talking about sex and desiring sex even when married? Why do women and even mothers get told that discussing sex publicly is an eye sore and that they should “think about how your children feel about this?”. How did the children come about in the first place?

Speaking with Dimma Davy*, she says that even as a professional in the medical line, she has experienced slut shaming in her personal life.

In her words: “I’m in the medical line. So one time I wanted to buy post pills because I’m not trying to get pregnant or go through an abortion. It was a spur of the moment thing and we didn’t use protection, then I found out I wasn’t safe, yunno.

I went to this pharmacy and asked for post pill, the lil sales boy chuckled, told his colleague what I wanted and then told me that they don’t sell such drugs.

I went to a patent store in my street because time was ticking, I told this young girl who should understand that I wanted post pill, she said “we don’t sell those kind of drugs” in a very loud voice and with side eye. Her mom asked her what I wanted and she yelled “postinor” this woman looked at me and said “hmmmm”.”

She went on to say: “Went to the 3rd, a pharmacy that had young girls as sales people, told them what I wanted and they had it. But the looks they gave me?? I swore never to go buy those pills on my own ever again. Like in my field, I’m heard and seen worse and y’all will judge me for post pill?? I felt so annoyed.

As a professional, I never slut shame a female because I know how it feels. We might joke about it in their absence but never in the presence, it goes against the ethics of gaining the patients trust. And even when we joke about it, I make sure the others, especially guys, don’t go overboard with it. They can be silly when you let them.”

For Ami, while she has never experienced this, she believes that what would help is if people in the medical field are trained to have proper customer service. She went on to say that it must be a course that they take because they are providing a service and one that requires kindness and no judgement.

When asked to share her story, Purple* explains that slutshaming has happened to her.

To quote her: “I can remember the first I ever encountered staph, that was my 2nd year in the university and I had just started having sex. I ran a test and went back to the lab for the results and since that was my first time I had to ask the lab personnel to do me a favor of interpreting the result. 

He went ahead and told me it was staph associated alongside a few bacteria found and asked me if I was sexually active. I said yes and he gave me the most judgmental look and told me, in his words: ‘Your partner better come and treat himself, else you’re just wasting your time’.”

Purple went on to say that that experience gave her a temporary scare to go back to any lab and carry out a test whenever she felt uncomfortable in her vagina.

She however concluded by saying: “That was before though. Now, I don’t just care about the workers and carry out my test irrespective of their looks. I’m a small statured person so I guess they see me as underaged, that’s still not even a good excuse for them irrespective, but yeah that’s my encounter.”

Women’s rights are human rights. In the same vein, access to kind and judgment free healthcare is something that should be a human right for women.

If we do not actively tackle the slutshaming by medical personnel, more women and girls will literally die in silence. 

That is simply unacceptable for the world we want to create for the women coming after us.

*Name changed to protect identity

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