SAHARA-J: Journal of Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS

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Experiences of sexual relationships of young black women in an atmosphere of coercion

F Cluver, D Elkonin, C Young


Negotiations surrounding sexual activity are characterised by multiple power disparities that include race, social status and age, with gender being the most dominant differential in heterosexual interactions. Research has shown that women are physiologically more at risk of contracting HIV than men, as indicated by the higher infection rates of the former. Many African societies operate via a hegemonic masculinity, with patriarchal governance and female subordination being the norm, placing women at even greater risk of HIV infection. In this qualitative phenomenological study, four black school-going adolescent women living in Grahamstown were interviewed using a semi-structured interview to gather data. An interpretative phenomenological analysis was conducted on the data to provide subjective insights of the experiences of the participants with regard to their interactions with men. From the findings, it became apparent that the participants felt pressured, coerced or manipulated by male counterparts. This pressure and coercion was not just felt in their interactions with older men, but also in their romantic  partnerships. Three of the participants experienced pressure to engage in sexual intercourse with their boyfriends when they were unwilling or unready, and they reported being faced with additional pressure to engage in unprotected sex. Furthermore, it became apparent that each participant had an underlying fear of being raped and considered this as a genuine threat to her safety and sexual health. The atmosphere within which these participants negotiate their sexual agency is thus heavily informed by male control, coercion and the threat of violence or rape.

Keywords: coercion, female sexual health, HIV/AIDS, interpretative phenomenological analysis, qualitative, South Africa

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