Newspaper Column #16: The Viralness of HIV/AIDs – Part III: What causes fidelity? Not infidelity.

As it appeared in the Botswana Sunday Standard on May 26, 2013

Nevertheless, a question that has crossed millions of minds and tons of conversations around the globe.  In sports clubs, in tea-gardens, at pubs, at market places and at bus-stations.  Between girlfriends and among boys and men.  Regardless of gender.

And we have thrashed this question in and out on various media at various stages of our lives.  As teenagers, as young adults, as married persons, as elders, even as institutions.  Sometimes, we would choose not to go there, because, we believe that it is either too difficult to get there or evokes difficult emotions or we see things that are difficult “to change” when we do get there.  Regardless of our professions.

And when we think we have got it, despite past experiences, it escapes us.  Once again.  Regardless of age.

But to be honest with each other, we really do not ask what causes fidelity!

We typically focus on why infidelity happens (happened to us).  Not fidelity.

We get what we want.  Knowing what we do not want, does not help us learn to build what we want or yearn for.

We may be ready to ‘tackle the consequences’ but as long as we keep creating the causes, we will have to continue to tackle the consequences.

This question, what causes fidelity, began to be important to us last week.  This was, when after exploring and uncovering what causes the prevalence of HIV/AIDS to rise, we recognised that fidelity inspite of non-abstinence or of not applying condoms; it had a sure-fire (guaranteed) way of bringing prevalence figures down.

I shared a discussion I would usually have in my workshop programmes when we tackle this topic, that, “Should two individuals, both HIV positive stay sexually fidel to each other, would that lead to increased levels of transmission of the HIV virus to individuals outside of the couple’s relationship.  That is, in spite of unsafe sexual practices with each other?

And the answer would be quite simply …. No!

For all.  Regardless of age, professsion or gender.  Immediately!  Except for the pair, there would be zero transmissions beyond them.  Something, a lot of nations and individuals easily aspires to and wishes it could happen for them but thinks it is difficult to reach.  Yet, it really isn’t that difficult to figure this one out.

This work is relentless in wanting to understand what influences such actions.  It is easier to dismiss it off and ‘say we require a change in behaviours’.  But if it stays on easier to say it than to do it, then we have not yet put a finger on to it to understand what would make a sufficient difference.  It was too simple!  Which is why we are led back in (to the problem).

I also shared that from a systemic perspective, the causality of HIV/AIDs as a phenomenon will be no different from that of one country to another!  Be it that the phenomenon is happening in India or Europe or China or here in Botswana, South Africa or Russia or the Americas.  Despite races or nationalities.

Why did I say that?

These circles of causality occur naturally and they prevail despite what we as individuals may appear to look like ‘on the outside’.  The ways we think and emote within, despite the boundaries we draw across the globe are not that very different.  Be it the hatred or joys we see as happening in China or Zimbabwe or Venezeula or the Artic or even between individuals as partners may manifest outwardly as looking differently.  But the emotions, and therefore the thinking and the behaviours stay true to the same.

The circles of causality are a presentation of how these aspects (namely emotions, behaviours and actions) interrelate within us and across each other.  Once these reinforce or feed themselves, or as we say locks themselves in, be they positively or negatively, the reasons or causes that appear in the cycle stay the same.

This takes us beyond the unequivocal blame we square on the ubiquitous influence of ‘truck drivers’.  And yet, ‘this’ could be anyone.  Some-ones from “outside but who was driving through” or we might say, being sexually indiscriminate or infidel with each other.

Yet, when it happen, it does not happen without a reason.  It is whether we see it (the reason) or we don’t.  When we do understand the reason, it now becomes easier for change to happen.  Hard as it may be, to accept the reason.

And so, the question is, “what causes sexual fidelity”? What encourages its growth?  What discourages it?  Where does that begin?

Couples anywhere, enjoy a type of intimacy that does not quite match up in the same way in relationships as we have with someone outside it or when we keep more than one intimate relation.  It is the only relationship that enjoys the following characteristics:

  1. The relationship is ‘not given’.  It needs to be learnt.  My relationship with my brother is given.  But my relationship with my husband is not given.  I did not “grow up” with him.  It has to be learnt.  I invest effort to learn about him;
  2. It enjoys an intimacy that goes beyond physical relations as we could with our parents and siblings, and especially beyond the obvious sexual one.  It is the only relationship that enjoys intimacy with another human being that spans, sexual intimacy to emotional (learning of our respective pasts) to mental (ways of our thoughts) to spiritual (that is not religious).  All of them with the same person at the same time.  Sometimes, the experience is referred to as being almost celestial or heavenly.  Sexual experiences become more enjoyable then.  Couples who do not ‘graduate beyond’ sexual activities rarely reach such a stage or enjoy it.  It takes time;
  3. It is the only relationship that helps us learn to open our ways of thinking to include that of another.  Family relations reinforce current or familiar ways of thinking within the box.  Intimate relations are the only relationship of its kind that helps us learn to ‘step out of our boxes’.  No other relationship can help us do that.  The more we do so, the more we learn to do that with relations outside of the family.  This becomes key to organizational and economic and international growths;
  4. It is the only relationship that helps preserve and grow our feminine and masculine emotional qualities to their ultimate peaks.  The woman feels (and not just looks) most like a woman and the man as a man.
  5. It is a relationship that starts small and grows over time, over a lifetime.  For the reasons above.  Not because our wealth has become inextricably tied up.

What allows a couple to reach such stages that goes beyond sexual fidelity to emotional fidelity?  What does emotional fidelity look like?

Sometimes we say, it is not easy for couples to enjoy sexual fidelity till they learn to enjoy emotional intimacy together.  Without emotional fidelity, do not expect sexual fidelity to happen that easily!  It does not.

So does emotional fidelity happen by accident or can it be learnt?

This will be the subject of the column’s discussion for next week.  Happy discussing and discovering!

Ms Sheila Damodaran works as a systemic strategy development consultant currently developing her practice with national planning commissions in southern Africa.  She welcomes comments and queries for her programmes at or call DID: 3931518.

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