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‘Dear diary I saw an angel, she looked like heaven on earth': Sex talk and sex education

Rob Pattman
Fatuma Chege


In this paper we highlight and address some of the problems
involved in teaching HIV/AIDS education in southern and eastern Africa, and
especially in generating open discussion among pupils about sex and sexuality.
The paper draws on the findings of a UNICEF-funded study, in which we were
involved, as research consultants (2001). The study focused on ‘young people,
gender, sexuality and HIV/AIDS education' and was conducted in Botswana, Kenya,
Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In Botswana, Rwanda and
Kenya, teachers and young people were interviewed about their attitudes towards
and experiences of teaching/learning HIV/AIDS education. Young people were also
interviewed more generally, in all the countries, about what it was like being
a boy or girl of their age. We argue that HIV/AIDS education, as it is commonly
taught, as a series of moral injunctions (against pre marital sex) effectively
silences young people, and means that sex ‘becomes' naughty when they do talk
about it. We propose HIV/AIDS pedagogies, which emulate the practices our
researchers adopted when researching the identities and views of boys and
girls, especially concerning gender and sexuality. By addressing young people
as experts about themselves and in a holistic and non-judgemental way, our
interviewees were able to speak about anxieties and pleasures, many of which
related to sexuality. This, they had not been able to do with other adults, and
even with other children. We focus on the regulation and production of gender
identities through the ways boys and girls talked about sex in our interviews and
also in their participation in HIV/AIDS classes. In particular we look at how
boys and girls ‘performed' gender when discussing sexuality with boys often
very loud and girls quiet, with boys presenting themselves as sexual and girls
presenting themselves as asexual. We argue for approaches to HIV/AIDS education
which challenge gender power relations without alienating boys by
problematising them, and without reproducing stereotypes of boys as subjects
and girls as objects of sexual desire. We examine the implications of this for
single sex and mixed group work and for addressing ‘sexual harassment'.
Importantly, we found that both girls and boys described people of the opposite
sex and heterosexual desire very differently in mixed-sex group interviews and in
the diaries they kept. Rather than addressing girls and boys as unitary
gendered subjects, we argue for approaches in HIV/AIDS education, which are
responsive to the different and contradictory ways boys and girls present
themselves and talk about sexual desire and the opposite sex in different

Keywords: gender, identity, Africa,
AIDS, young

African Journal of AIDS Research 2003, 2(2): 103–112

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eISSN: 1608-5906
print ISSN: 1727-9445