African Journal of AIDS Research

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“I am aware of the risks, I am not changing my behaviour”: risky sexual behaviour of university students in a high-HIV context

Zinhle Mthembu, Pranitha Maharaj, Shanaaz Rademeyer


Unprotected sexual activity increases the risk of pregnancy and HIV and AIDS. More than three decades into the AIDS pandemic, the condom remains the most effective strategy for protecting against the dual risks of pregnancy and HIV and AIDS, but data from national surveys suggest that condom use among young people aged 15–24 is on the decline in South Africa. This study uses qualitative data from 20 in-depth interviews and one focus group to examine the risk behaviours of university students aged 18–24 years old, with particular emphasis on understanding the decline in the use of condoms. It is well documented that South Africa has one of the highest prevalence rates of HIV and AIDS in the world, however the findings of this study suggest that even though students were well informed about the perceived risks associated with unsafe sexual behaviours, they continue to engage in risk behaviours including unprotected sexual intercourse, multiple sexual partners and the use of alcohol. Male students were more likely than female students to report risky sexual behaviours. Condom use is occurring but not consistently. The majority of students did not use condoms during their first sexual encounter because of a lack of preparedness. Negative attitudes towards condoms continue to discourage students from using them consistently, especially those provided by the government. In light of this, it is recommended that rigorous efforts are directed towards challenging inaccurate perceptions about, and attitudes towards, condom use to promote consistency.

Keywords: unprotected sex, condom use, university students, South Africa

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