Do you remember the first time you saw a condom? I do.
It was an advertisement. “A tool for sex,” the ad said, “to prevent STDs.”
I was baffled. I had no idea what sex or STDs were. No one would tell me.
I grew up just outside of Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi. I’m the only girl in my family, outnumbered by four brothers. I often wished for a sister to share things with. A sister who could tell me what she knew.
Because, while no one would tell me the truth about safe sex, lies were everywhere:
A man can get rid of HIV by having sex with a virgin—people said.
When my high school boyfriend pressured me to get intimate, my girlfriends warned, “You cannot use a condom because you are a virgin.”
They didn’t know better. None of us did. Sex was taboo, and we were afraid.
I’ll admit it.
When I began counseling young people about safe sex, for me, it was all about getting a crown.
At university, I started modeling and competing in pageants. At some auditions, I was disqualified because of my dark skin. Then I competed for the crown of Miss Tourism Kenya, where I needed a project—something to set myself apart.
It didn’t take me long to decide on my project:
I remembered all the misinformation I’d received as a girl. Things weren’t much better in college. When I talked to my classmates, no one knew how to protect themselves for HIV or unintended pregnancy. No one knew about their sexual and reproductive rights.
I got really curious, wanted to learn more, and wanted to share what I learned with other young people.
This quickly became my mission. And Pathfinder is helping me do it—providing me with trainings, accurate information, and opportunities to reach hundreds of young people around Nairobi.
Today, 50 students at Kenyatta University surround me.
“The first time I saw a female condom,” I tell them, “I was shocked.”
They laugh and nod. They stretch the slippery object in their fingers. I wish you could see their faces.
“My college only had a dispenser for male condoms,” I say. “Even at the chemist, they only stock male condoms. It’s not fair for a girl. You want to protect yourself.”
I tell them how, after I saw a female condom, I went straight into the loo and inserted it. “It feels great,” I say from experience.
A girl beside me is smiling. I want her to know that female condoms are pleasurable, fun, and worth trying. Best of all, they can keep her safe.
I want to tell you one final story.
It’s about a girl I recently counseled in Kibera. At 17, she had just entered a new relationship. Her partner told her that he was HIV positive. He was not willing to use protection.
It was challenging to hear her story. She was so scared. But I accept challenges as an opportunity to use my experiences and intelligence. It’s an opportunity to become a different kind of model for Kenyan girls.
I talked to her about her contraceptive options and safe sex. We talked about female condoms. Together, we discussed ways she could approach her guy.
Two weeks later, when I went to Kibera, I met up with her again, and she told me it worked.
He still refused to use protection but said it was okay for her to use protection.
I hope this story touches you like it touches me. And I want to thank you. As a Pathfinder supporter, you help me continue to do this important work. Together we are changing lives.
We are sisters after all.
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Watch a video — “Female Condoms Are My Power, Protection, Pleasure” — and explore a newly released study about female condom use in Mozambique.
Clara Onyango is a an outreach worker and advocate of young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, based in Nairobi, Kenya. Clara is supported through the FC2 Education and Promotion Project-Africa, funded by the Female Health Company and implemented by Pathfinder in partnership with the Government of Kenya and local stakeholders.