African Journal of AIDS Research

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Constructions of sexuality and HIV risk among young people in Venda, South Africa: implications for HIV prevention

Veronica Sivhabu, Maretha Visser


The study explored constructions of sexuality among young people of Venda in Limpopo, South Africa, and cultural practices that can be used to develop context-specific HIV prevention programmes. HIV prevention can be promoted by including some cultural practices in prevention programmes and changing some aspects of culture that may contribute negatively to health. Six focus group discussions were held with school-going young people (Grades 10 to 12) in urban and rural areas to explore their constructions of sexuality and HIV risk. Four focus group discussions were held with community leaders in the same areas to explore their constructions of young people’s sexuality and cultural practices relevant to HIV prevention. Through discourse analysis, the following dominant discourses that influence young people’s sexual risk behaviour were identified: rite of passage, the male sexual drive discourse (sex is natural and unavoidable); discourse of hegemonic masculinity (sex to prove masculinity); sex as a commodity; non-adherence to cultural practices; and HIV is normalised (AIDS is like flu). Some alternative constructions and shifts in gender norms were noticed, especially among female participants. The constructions of young people were not culture-specific but similar to those identified in other South African cultures. Community leaders identified a few cultural practices that could be considered in HIV prevention, for example, reinstating the rite of passage to provide age-appropriate sex and HIV education (behavioural intervention), and promoting traditional male circumcision (biological intervention). Cultural practices that contribute negatively to health should be challenged such as current constructions of gender roles (masculinity and femininity) and the practice that parents do not talk to young people about sex (both structural interventions).

Keywords: constructions of sexuality, cultural practices, discourse analysis, HIV prevention, sexual risk behaviours, social construction

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