Despite their high levels of knowledge about HIV and AIDS, young people ages 15–24 years in South Africa remain disproportionately affected by the epidemic. Young people’s continued susceptibility to HIV infection has been consistently linked to intractable higher-risk sexual behaviours. This paper uses multivariate techniques and secondary data from two nationally representative surveys to illuminate individual and socio-structural factors that play a significant role in youths’ continued engagement in higher-risk behaviour, despite their high awareness about HIV and AIDS. The findings show that notwithstanding progress in terms of increased condom use and reduced incidence of other sexually transmitted infections, the average age of sexual debut remains low, multiple sexual partnerships are prevalent, and inconsistent condom use is widespread among young people. Factors significantly associated with these risk behaviours occur at the individual and structural levels and include issues of race, gender, poverty and susceptibility to peer pressure. The paper concludes by recommending that future HIV-prevention interventions in South Africa should aim at building resilience among youths by promoting affirmative, supportive interventions that emphasize the potentials of young people.
Keywords: attitudes; HIV/AIDS; HIV prevention; relationships; risk assessment; social ecology; social systems; socio-cultural factors; youth
African Journal of AIDS Research 2010, 9(1): 17–24