Understanding risky sexual behaviour amongst female secondary school learners within the context of HIV and AIDS in South Africa.
Young women in socially challenged environments engage in risky sexual behaviour for many reasons. This paper presents the findings of a qualitative research project conducted among female secondary school learners in the Amaoti-Phoenix areas. Data was elicited during both individual and group interviews. A semi-structured interview process was employed. Poverty is at the helm of most risks taken. Many of the participants hail from informal settlements where space and privacy is limited. The young women are exposed to sexual activities very early in their lives, often with multiple partners. Elders in the research community do little to educate their young people of the risks associated with unprotected sex. Often young women are coaxed to engage in unprotected sex due to the rewards that accompany this risk. To indulge in life‟s luxuries, young women embrace sexual risks. The young women also allude to desire for sexual pleasures. The hope of a steady relationship motivates the young women to engage in unprotected sex as they trust and love their partners enough to waiver the use of protection. Substance abuse also contributes to risk taking behaviour as the individuals are unable to make informed choices when under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Myths and misconceptions in society place young women on the risk continuum. They are in danger of being raped or violated because of the belief that HIV and AIDS can be cured by a virgin. Gender disparities place women in subordinate positions in society whilst the men are dominant and in power. These discriminatory practices further place young women at risk as they lack the capacity to negotiate safe sex. The patriarchal Black and Indian communities allow for male dominance where often coercive and violent sexual behaviour is common. The young women are knowledgeable about the STDs, HIV and AIDS. Pregnancy is cited as being of greater concern than diseases contracted during unprotected sex. These young women have not had direct encounters with HIV and AIDS patients therefore its influence is watered down. Schools are equipped to handle Life Skills Education focusing on HIV and AIDS as well as safe sexual practices. This study is located within a feminist paradigm but the theory of social construction of gender is adopted.