Sex in the Mother City under the spotlight
As part of the 878-person study, researchers surveyed residents in Wallacedene, Delft-South and Khayelitsha. Study participants reported being in about 1130 relationships in past year with a quarter of these relationships overlapping with other relationships for a period of time.
“The proportion of both men and women temporarily having two partners at the same time is much higher than was previously reported,” said study leader South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis (SACEMA) Deputy-Director Dr Wim Delva.
Researchers did an in-depth study of sexual behaviour in these communities in order to find answers to several questions, including why HIV infection was higher in black communities as compared to coloured communities facing similar levels of poverty, unemployment and other social challenges.
“Interestingly, we found that coloured communities on average use less condoms than black communities, which suggests that condom use, as important as it is, cannot bring down the risk of HIV sufficiently unless it is used consistently,” Delva told Health-e News.
Older man ‘more respectful’
The study also found that black South African respondents reported larger gaps in ages between partners than coloured study participants. About two-thirds of black men 45 years and older were in relationships with women at least five years younger than them. Meanwhile, nearly half of black women 24 years and older chose partners at least five years their senior.
In-depth interviews with 23 women revealed that women felt that there was a lower risk of physical or verbal abuse from older men, and that older men were generally more calm, understanding and supportive.
While Delva said that these sorts of age disparities could have important implications for women’s HIV risk, the study did not evaluate whether or not women reporting age-disparate relationships were more likely to also report being HIV positive.
While South African HIV campaigns have long warned women to avoid older men or “sugar daddies” due to a higher risk for HIV, a 2014 Africa Centre study found that women with older partners in rural KwaZulu-Natal showed no increased HIV risk compared when compared to peers dating men of their own age.
Like Delva’s study, the Africa Centre research also found that women preferred older men because they were more respectful and less abusive.
“What we learnt is that people don’t make relationship decisions only based on their risk for HIV, and that sexual relationships are a complex phenomenon with many dimensions… Therefore, if we design interventions taking all these aspects into account, we may have a better chance of success than if we only focus on reducing HIV,” Delva told Health-e News.
The research was published in a series of articles in the journals BMC Public Health, PLOS One, and the Journal of the International AIDS Society. – Health-e News.