An investigation of the association of peer norms and sexual risk-taking behaviour in school-going adolescents in the Durban Metropolitan Area.
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Today’s youth grow up in a world riddled by HIV/AIDS and its devastating effects. In order to prevent HIV infection in youth, there is an ongoing need to understand the influences that place them at risk in order to develop programmes to mediate these influences towards healthy outcomes. Sexual risk behaviors are influenced by various factors ranging from intrapersonal to social normative and contextual/environmental factors. This study focuses on the social normative contextual influences on adolescent sexual risk behaviours in an attempt to understand sexual behaviours, in a sample of school going adolescents from grades nine, ten and eleven, in the Durban Metropolitan area (N=259). This study aimed to examine the relationship, if any, between protective peer norm influences and adolescent sexual behaviour, including sexual risk-taking behaviours, measured by the dimensions of condom use at last sexual encounter, number of sexual partners and age of sexual debut. The findings showed no significant difference in levels of protective peer norms between those who have never engaged in sexual intercourse (primary abstinence) and those that had. The findings did, however, show significantly higher levels of protective peer norm influence regarding safe sexual practices, particularly condom use, among those who reportedly used condoms at their last sexual encounter, confirming that those who practiced safer sex had higher levels of protective peer norm influence. The findings of this study suggest the need for lifeskills programmes to empower youth to challenge social norms that place youth at risk of HIV infection, and further to include interventions to facilitate the renegotiation of peer norms towards health enhancing alternatives, to protect adolescents against sexual risk behaviours.