Contexts of vulnerability: Sex, secrecy and HIV/AIDS

  • Eleanor M Preston-Whyte School of Development Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 4041, South Africa


Written before the announcement of a national roll out of antiretroviral treatment in South Africa, this paper uses three illustrative vignettes to draw attention to some major areas of HIV/AIDS vulnerability related to the themes of sex and secrecy within households and families. The vulnerability, particularly of women and young girls, within domains traditionally regarded as ‘safe', is noted. The dangers for the spread of the epidemic, of the typical ‘silence' between generations around sex and the immersion of the younger generation in worlds which are essentially hidden from adults, is also commented upon. The silence of stigma and non-disclosure are, further, argued to be essentially inimical to sociability and what has been referred to by various sociologists as communitas, community and to the open expression of love, caring and recognition for basic humanity. Even the confidentiality enjoined by law and medical ethics is seen to have a negative side, when it comes to caring for and comforting AIDS infected and affected family and community members. The paper ends with a call for researchers to be aware that AIDS stigma may render the very act of research a source of danger to those affected by HIV and AIDS.

African Journal of AIDS Research 2003, 2(2): 89–94

Keywords: community, communitas, danger, family, household, intergenerational silence

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1608-5906
print ISSN: 1727-9445