Young people in the US have sex earlier than South Africans, have more partners and are less likely to use condoms ‘yet the HIV rate in this country is ten times that of the US.
This is according to a report published this month in The Journal of Adolescent Health by researcher Dr Audrey Pettifor from the Universities of North Carolina and Wits and colleagues.
They compared the sexual behaviours of young South Africans and young people in the US through national surveys involving over 7 500 South Africans and 13 400 US youth aged between 18 and 24.
On average, young US women first had sex at around 16.5 years, almost a year earlier than South African women, who reported first having sex at around 17.4 years.
The average age at which US males first had sex was 16.4 years, while for South African males it was 16.7 years.
In the US, both men and women surveyed had had four sexual partners on average, while South African women had two and the men, three.
Condom use at last sex was significantly higher amongst South African youth. Almost six out of 10 young South African men had used a condom the last time they had sex, whereas less than half (48 percent) of young US men had. Amongst women, 45 percent of South Africans and 36 percent of US young people used condoms.
The only HIV-related risk factor higher amongst South Africans was that young South African women were far more likely than young US women to have partners that were a lot older than they were.
‘Young people in the US report riskier sexual behaviors than young people in SA, despite the much higher prevalence of HIV infection in SA,’ concluded the researchers.
‘Factors above and beyond sexual behavior likely play a key role in the ongoing transmission of HIV in South African youth, and thus should be urgently uncovered to develop maximally effective prevention strategies.’