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Contexts of vulnerability: Sex, secrecy and HIV/AIDS

Eleanor M Preston-Whyte


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

communitas, danger, family, household, intergenerational silence