20 Oct 2021


R, my best friend, reached over and held my hand. Against mine, hers were warm and reassuring; mine were trembling with anxiety, worry, and disappointment. “How could I be so stupid?” I asked rhetorically. “I know better. I write for MTVShuga for God’s sake; I know better than this. I warn people against things like this.”

“You don’t have HIV,” R said for the umpteenth time. “Stop worrying.”

“You don’t know that for sure,” I insisted, as I glanced over the bolt app to see how long it would take to get to the lab. Seven more minutes. I asked the driver if he could get there any faster and I focused on the road as he navigated around the traffic. From watching MTVShuga, I had learnt that HIV is not the end of the world; that it is possible to live happily and healthily with the virus. Femi, Bongi, Princess, and Arabeng – some of my favourite characters across the many seasons of the show – were living proof of this. Through these characters, the show educates viewers on HIV – its prevention, the importance of testing, mother-child transmission, medication, and sexual transmission. It passed on a single message: that one can still live and that living with the virus; it only requires some minor adjustments to their lifestyle.

As a blogger, I had also written articles on “what next?” after testing positive for HIV – contacting recent sexual partners, finding a support group, talking to professionals, and staying healthy with regular exercise and food. I argued, vehemently, that it’s possible to have a positive attitude, even after testing positive for HIV. It’s possible to live la vida loca, to enjoy the things you used to and to find new reasons to be happy. So, for all intent and purposes, I knew better – not just in terms of having a healthier sex life, but also in terms of handling the situation afterwards. But I am Nigerian with an ultra-conservative Muslim mother who worries way too much about what people think about our lifestyle – even if it’s as little and nonthreatening as wearing jeans out to lunch with a few girlfriends. Therefore, I cannot have HIV; it would bring shame to my family.

When I got my negative result, I stared at it for minutes before reacting. I had never been that scared in my life and still, I insisted that my boyfriend and exclusive sexual partner got one too. For many people like me, we are often caught between coming from conservative backgrounds and trying to live our best lives. We want to go from club to club all night, smoke weed as much as we need to escape reality and have sex with our boyfriends (even be adventurous with same-sex partners at times). But we don’t want people to know that side of ours; we want them to see professionals in different fields and the intellectual side we allow our families use to show off to their friends. And this is where MTVShuga comes with its ultimate message: be wild safely. “No one’s here to tell you not to have sex,” the show seems to say. “But if you’re going to do it, then do it the right way.” And – unlike all your religious and traditional teachings, the right way doesn’t mean in your husband’s house. It means encouraging each other to get tested, knowing your status and your sexual partners’, and using a condom to protect yourself and others. And if you forget and end up with a sexually transmitted disease or infection, it teaches you what to do next – where to go, who to speak to, and how to handle it.

MTVShuga provides the sexual and reproductive health education conservative parents would never; and it fills in the gap in their teaching, while relating it to modern-day in a way that you and I would find relatable. “We’ve all been there,” it seems to say. Now, I have, too. And while we can chastise ourselves for knowing better, the fact is, we’re human and every now and then, we’re going to slip. But with the right information, we’ll always find ourselves on our feet again.