This study investigates the knowledge, attitudes and sexual practices of adolescents with mild mental retardation (MMR) in relation to HIV/AIDS. Questionnaires were personally administered to a saturation sample of 90 adolescents with MMR drawn from one specialised educational institution in Durban, South Africa. The study revealed critical gaps and erroneous beliefs regarding knowledge of HIV/AIDS, especially with regard to its existence, transmission and cure. Participants indicated a high degree of exposure to various sources of information, particularly media messages. The results indicate that gender-role prescriptions and prevailing social constructions of immorality have had a negative influence on the attitudes and behaviour of participants, particularly with regard to sexual practices and preventative risk behaviours. Furthermore, the sample was found to have low levels of selfefficacy in relation to sexual negotiation and decision-making, more specifically with regard to condom use. It should be noted, however, that only a small proportion of the sample was sexually active and the use of contraceptives was accordingly found to be extremely low. The findings are discussed against the backdrop of the empirical literature on HIV/AIDS, developmental theory, and pertinent theories and models of health behaviour. This study may help to promote a better understanding of the psycho-educational dynamics of HIV infection in this special group of adolescents, and also help to inform attempts to tailor suitable educational programmes, as well as promote further research to add to our knowledge as we address the problems of HIV/AIDS among this group.
Keywords: peer norms, self-efficacy, sex education, sexual behaviour, MMR
African Journal of AIDS Research 2006, 5(1): 1–10