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Enjoy yourself,but don't be reckless

Although no scientific survey has been carried out, the popular assumption is that sexual activity rises during the Carnival. The only empirical evidence for this phenomenon are the so-called Carnival babies who are born at a 15 per cent higher rate between October and December, which would indicate a conception date some time between January and March.

Now it is possible there are other factors which cause more women to conceive during these months, but Carnival seems the most probable culprit: this is a time when more people are feteing, drinking and flaunting their sexuality. It seems only likely that more sex, casual and otherwise, would be the result.

What is most worrisome about this is that so many people are apparently having unprotected sex. After all, the 15 per cent increase in births is due only to a subset of all the persons who had sexual encounters, as many did not lead to pregnancy. The warning earlier this week by the RED initiative, a non-profit organisation, about the dangers of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is thus timely.

"Prevention is better than cure," noted activist and RED founder O'Leo Lokai. "Not only should there be ongoing HIV prevention throughout the year, but given that the Carnival season is also a high-risk season, the focus should be on prevention and behaviour change programmes." The Health Ministry and several non-governmental organisations have long been aware of this problem and step up their public awareness and condom-distribution campaign during these months. Unfortunately, there is no data on whether these campaigns are effective.

The key question is: how many women and men regret their Carnival behaviour come Ash Wednesday? Those who have no regrets will not be persuaded to change their ways, but such persons may be in a minority. The problem is, by the time Carnival comes again, people have forgotten their regrets of the previous year. Still, while it is almost impossible to change people's mindsets, public awareness campaigns can change behaviour. In other words, the impulse to lose inhibitions would still be there, but how such lack of inhibitions are expressed can change.

In this respect, Carnival presents a difficult challenge for the STI-prevention campaigners since the very ethos of the festival is reckless abandonment. Yet people do not play mas or fete in order to be reckless. They are only out to enjoy themselves. What people need to learn is that complete enjoyment of any activity, including sex, requires awareness and responsibility. A few moments of pleasure can never be worth decades of distress.

Unfortunately, human beings tend to change only when confronted with consequences. And, by that time, it may be too late.

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