Sexual behaviour change among young people has been cited as a significant tool in the fight against high HIV prevalence among the youth. But with so many contributing factors to young people’s tolerance of risky behaviour, it is still not clear how to achieve the individual level behavioural changes needed to reduce high HIV infections.
A group of sexually active youth from Johannesburg shared their sexual experiences.
‘Am I sexually active? Yes I am. The last time I had sex’¦ it was like two weeks back. I was not pressured. I decided… let me have it and see what’s the fuss about it’, says 19 year-old Sakhile Ngwenya, who recently lost his virginity.
‘I was 18 when I had my first sexual encounter and I did use a condom’, says Victor Edwards.
Twenty-one year-old Pule Kekana also shared his experience.
‘I was 13 when I had my first sexual encounter and it was after I saw somebody watch porn. And I was like’¦ I’m going to try and do this, which I actually did. I didn’t feel any pressure from anybody else because I pressured myself into doing it. The first time was not safe because I didn’t have knowledge about condoms’, he says.
Asked if they discuss safe sex practise with their partners, interestingly, these young people said they did not.
‘I think our generation has been kind of programmed into thinking that there is no sex without a condom. So, we don’t talk about it’¦ we just do it’, says Victor Edwards.
‘I feel there is no need because we both know the risk of having sex without a condom. So, there is no need to talk about it’¦ we just always use a condom’, added Pule Kekana.
Contrary to the impression these young people give about being always conscious about safe sex practise, they actually admit that they don’t use protection at certain times.
‘I have had sex without using a condom countless of times. I know that’s reckless, but I ended up doing an HIV test and I’m negative’, says Pule Kekana.
‘Yes, I have had unprotected sex. I refuse to go for a test because if I go and I find I am [HIV-positive], I will give myself three months to live’, added Victor Edwards.
Sakhile fingered alcohol abuse as a huge contributing factor to the lack of condom use.
‘When you’re drunk, having to remind yourself to use a condom’¦ it’s much harder’, says Sakhile Ngwenya.
Despite some questionable sexual behaviour amongst this group of young people, Dr. Andile Dube, Director of Youth Programmes at Love life, says evidence shows youth are getting the safe sex practise message.
‘HSRC did a study which shows a decrease in the incidence. It showed an increase on the condom uptake and it also showed a decrease in the number of multiple-concurrent partners. The youth is really getting there and are taking care of themselves’, says Dr. Dube.
The study found that the prevalence of HIV among 15 -24 year olds has fallen from 10.3% in 2005 to 8.7% in 2008. Also, self-reported condom use has increased sharply from 35.4% in 2005 to 62.4% in 2008. Dr. Dube says people should not only look at the act of sex itself, but rather other issues such as lack of education and poverty, which contribute to young people actually tolerating risk.
‘A person with a low self-esteem, who does not have a sense of belonging and a low sense of purpose in their life, is more likely to be involved in risky behaviour’, says Dr. Dube.
Dr. Dube also suggested that parents and youth need to start talking about safe sex practise and other issues that concern them.
‘Some of the parents will actually say they don’t know how to talk to their youth about sex and sexuality. The issue is how early do you start? You don’t start by saying, ‘use a condom’. You talk to your youth about everything and anything, so that when the time comes to talk about sex and sexuality, the other person does not find it strange’, says Dr. Dube.
She said a more personal and face-to-face approach would drive home the safe sex practise message better.
‘I think what is probably missing is having face-to-face messages in every community. I think, maybe, because of financial reasons, organisations that deal with these messages are unable to actually go to each on every corner of the country. Let’s have the youth doing this for themselves. They have to drive it within their communities and ensure that almost everyone gets the message’, concluded Dr. Dube.