Sexual discourse and decision-making by urban youth in AIDS-afflicted Swaziland

This article begins by considering the ethics and practicalities of researching sensitive issues with older children and young adults in the context of HIV/AIDS. As part of qualitative fieldwork in the municipality of Mbabane, Swaziland, family caregivers and learners at two secondary schools explained how and where sexual health knowledge is gained and what they consider to be the main influences on sexual decision-making. The findings show that despite one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world, the information reaching youth in Swaziland is still often inaccurate and confusing. Young people wanted to be able to discuss sexual health issues with informed adults close to them in age and in a variety of settings. Peer pressure was an important influence on behaviour and led to high-risk behaviour for both genders. Alcohol and cannabis were readily available and often linked to high-risk behaviour. Low family incomes and the perceived need for luxury goods encouraged female learners to have transactional sex with older men. Cultural perceptions of the role of both genders militated against low-risk behaviour and left some adolescents feeling marginalised and lonely. Ways of approaching these issues at the community level are suggested.

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