South African researchers have stressed the importance of gender and relationship dynamics underlying sexual risk, particularly among 15- to 19-year-olds. Nevertheless, we know little about these factors among young girls, who are especially at risk of HIV. The main objective in this study was to explore the ways that young girls aged 16 to 17 years give meaning to boys and boyfriends and the processes through which these relationship dynamics are shaped. In-depth interviews were conducted with a group of black 1 girls in a working class context in Durban about their sexual relationships with boys. Dominant gender norms underlined the ways in which girls discussed these sexual relationships in relation to their lack of power and condom use. Factors such as their class, race and gender interacted with girls’ vulnerability to risk of HIV. While girls were complicit in their subordination, particularly in relation to cheating boyfriends, many were critical of boys who displayed patterns of sexual domination. Efforts aimed at reducing sexual risk must work toward shifting dominant patterns of masculinity over femininity to broaden pathways of love, trust, loyalty and understanding.
Keywords: sexual relationships, boys, gender norms, race and class, risk
African Journal of AIDS Research 2013, 12(1): 25–31