Sexuality of 16- to 17- Year-Old South Africans in the Context of Hiv/aids

By Peltzer, Karl; Pengpid, Supa | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, March 15, 2006 | Go to article overview

Sexuality of 16- to 17- Year-Old South Africans in the Context of Hiv/aids


Peltzer, Karl, Pengpid, Supa, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


The aim of this study was to better understand the sexuality of youth in the context of HIV/ AIDS in South Africa. Participants (400 male and 400 female 16- and 17- year-olds) 400 were from rural and 400 from urban areas, and almost all were of African descent. Results indicate that two-thirds of the girls and more than half of the boys had had sexual intercourse and had petted. Almost half of the boys (44.3%) and 24% of the girls took less than a week to have sexual intercourse in their current steady relationship. Only 40% of the girls and 57% of the boys had used a condom during their first sexual intercourse; HIV-AIDS prevention efforts should be linked to research on sexuality to advance effectiveness.

Keywords: human sexuality, 16- to 17- year-olds, HIV/AIDS, South Africa.

South Africa is reported to have the largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the world (UNAIDS, 2004) and also the epidemic is now believed to be generalized in all segments of its population (Shisana & Simbayi, 2002). As is the case in most countries in the sub-Saharan region of Africa, the main route of transmission of HIV infection in South Africa is believed to be through heterosexual intercourse (UNAIDS, 2002). There is evidence that most infections occur during adolescence and early adulthood (UNAIDS, 2002). This coincides with the time of turmoil that often accompanies adolescent development. There are significant gender differences in the ages at which HIV infection peaks in the two sexes, with females peaking around the age of 25, 10-15 years earlier than for males (HIV In-Site, 2001). Pettifor et al., (2004) found, in a nationally representative survey in 2003, that among South African youth age 15- to 19- years old (n=5977) there was an HIV infection rate of 2.5% among males (n=2155) and 7.3% among females (n=3822). It is therefore important to understand sexuality in the context of HIV/AIDS in South Africa.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic has proven to be a major catalyst for sexuality research and social construction theory. The reliance on sexuality research for understanding HIV transmission and prevention has highlighted some of the inadequacies of existing research and methodologies. For instance, epidemiological methods of conceptualizing and quantifying sexuality do not allow for an understanding of the meanings associated with it. Research attention has increasingly shifted from sexual behavior, in and of itself, to the cultural settings within which it takes place and to the cultural rules which organize it. Special emphasis has been given to analyzing the indigenous cultural categories and systems of classifications that structure and define sexual experience in different social and cultural contexts (Parker & Eaton, 1998; Savage & Tchombe, 1994).

HIV prevention efforts are likely to be most successful when they draw on relevant areas of human sexuality research including those related to the interpersonal relationship context of sex, strategies for sexual communication and resistance to coercion, changing sexual behavior repertoires from taking risks to safer practices, and situational factors that can increase (or lessen) risk. By better linking HIV prevention to research on human sexuality, it should prove possible to advance the effectiveness of HIV-AIDS prevention efforts (Kelly & Kalichman, 1995).

Holland, Ramazanoglu, Scott, Sharpe, and Thomson (1990, p. 339) defined sexuality as follows: "By sexuality we mean not only sexual practices, but also what people know and believe about sex, particularly what they think is natural, proper and desirable. Sexuality also includes people's sexual identities in all their cultural and historical variety. This assumes that while sexuality cannot be divorced from the body, it is also socially constructed. "

Ahlberg (1994) examined the thesis of Caldwell, Caldwell and Quiggin (1989) that African sexuality is inherently permissive, a factor that has made it resistant to change. …

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