KAMPALA, 30 November 2012 (PlusNews) - Married or cohabiting couples are at a higher risk of HIV infection in Uganda than their single counterparts, with some studies finding that as many as 65 percent of new infections occur in long-term relationships. The prevailing culture, a hybrid of traditional mores and more modern, western values, accepts - even expects - men, and increasingly women, to have a "side dish" - a euphemism for a sexual affair.
IRIN/PlusNews spoke to a few women in the capital, Kampala, about how they protect themselves from HIV in non-monogamous relationships. All names have been changed at the women's request:
Victoria, a married musician
"He does cheat a lot. He is never at home. He comes back home late every day. His phone is full of messages from women.
“I can't do much. We have never gone for an HIV test together, and I can't ask him for us to start using condoms, yet we are married. If I try to deny him sex, that will be trouble and a disaster at home; we would not talk for about two weeks or a month. He would suspect that I am cheating on him.
“I do cheat. However, I always use protection. I am not sure whether he [husband] protects himself when he goes out with other women.
“The ‘side dish’ [public HIV] campaign messages really touch my heart. That is why I use condoms if I am cheating on my husband."
Maryanne, banker, wife and mother
“He has cheated before, and I believe he is still cheating. Every man gets tired of one woman and wants new stuff. Even me, I get tired of him and need a new person for a change. I do monthly HIV tests alone. He doesn't want to do the HIV tests.
“We normally use condoms, but not for HIV protection; we use them when I am about to start my menstrual periods and when I have fungal infection like candida.
“It's difficult to deny a man sex. If you do so, he will leave you at home and go to look for other women to satisfy his sexual desires.
“Of course, I have cheated and still continue to do it. It's impossible and unfair for an individual to have one sexual partner for the entire life, even if you are married. It's normal to cheat while in marriage. Variety is the spice of life.
“I use condoms with the side dish... to protect myself from contracting HIV. I also move with my HIV test kits [bought from a local pharmacy for about US$1.10]. If I need to have live [unprotected] sex with the side dish, we first test before we do it live.
“The [marital faithfulness] messages are good, but cheating among married couples is not about to go anywhere. The sexual network will continue, but people need to be careful and mindful. HIV is real. They should always protect themselves.”
Maggie, an insurance official, wife and mother
“He has cheated on several occasions, and he is not about to stop. I stopped having sex with him. I couldn't continue to risk my life. I told him we have to put on hold [sex] until further notice when I feel I have rebuilt my trust in him. That angered him so much. He walked out and formalized [marriage] with another woman.
“I have never cheated on the father of my children. As for testing for HIV, I am not concerned since he walked out.
“It was unusual for married women to cheat in the past, but it's so rampant these days. Women have been emancipated, independent and empowered. So they feel that what men do they too can do. But...as they cheat, they should remember protection. "
Nimora, a parking attendant, co-wife and mother
“Despite us being two wives, the man still cheats on us. You can't imagine - I caught him with the housemaid. We seem old to him now. He wants young girls... [he] is cheating because he has a lot of money.
“I can't restrict or refuse him from going out. I do the HIV test alone. I have tried to plead with him for us to go for an HIV test, but he has always refused. Whenever I can, I get free HIV testing in order to know my status in order to plan for my children.
“As a married woman, I can't start asking my husband for us to use condoms. I don't have trust in condoms; I have a feeling the virus can go through them.
“I don't cheat on him. I really love him despite his cheating on me. I have several men who are chasing after me, but I can't cheat. I fear I may be the one to bring the virus. I don't want my children to suffer as we did. I lost my parents to HIV, and we suffered. We didn’t have anyone to pay school fees and provide the basic needs. If I didn’t go to [a tertiary-level] institution through government sponsorship, I would have struggled to raise the [money for] tuition.
“I pray to God daily, not only to for him [my husband] not to get HIV but to have mercy for him to change his sexual behaviour. It's only God who protects. I can't do anything.”