Challenging dominant norms of masculinity for HIV prevention

  • Catherine MacPhail Reproductive Health Research Unit, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Witwaterstrand, Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, PO Bertsham 2013, Johannesburg, South Africa


Within South Africa there is a growing HIV epidemic, particularly among young heterosexual people. A recent report (NMF/HSRC, 2002) indicates that levels of HIV infection among young people aged 15–24 years are 9.3% although other studies in more specific locations have shown levels to be higher than this. One of the best means of developing successful and innovative HIV prevention programmes for young people is to enhance our understandings of youth sexuality and the manner in which dominant norms contribute to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Social norms of masculinity are particularly important in this regard, as the manner in which ‘normal' men are defined such as through acquisition of multiple partners, power over women and negative attitudes towards condoms, are often in conflict with the true emotional vulnerabilities of young men. Given the strong influence of peer groups on young people and the belief that one of the solutions to behaviour change lies in peer renegotiation of dominant norms, there is the need to begin to investigate young men who challenge dominant norms of masculinity. It is in investigating their points of view that a platform for the deconstruction of stereotypical masculinities and the reconstruction of new norms can be formed.
The paper begins to consider these counter normative ideas through highlighting the discussions of young South African men aged 13–25 years in focus groups and in-depth individual interviews conducted in Gauteng Province. It is apparent that among this group there are young men challenging normative views of masculinity in a manner that could be harnessed within HIV prevention initiatives.

Keywords: adolescents, sexual health, social influences

African Journal of AIDS Research 2003, 2(2): 141–149

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1608-5906
print ISSN: 1727-9445