Understanding risky sexual behaviour amongst young women in a single-sex school in the Durban area in the context of HIV and AIDS.
This study explores how a group of young women, aged 16-18 years, attending a single-sex school in the Durban area, give meaning to gender and sexuality in relation to sexual risk within the South African context of HIV & AIDS. In South Africa the rate of HIV infection is high, with women being more vulnerable to the infection than men. Social constructions of gender play a major role in placing restrictions on women in terms of their sexual liberty, reinforcing traditional femininities which leave women powerless in terms of negotiating safe sex. Social Constructionism was utilised as the theoretical approach that guides the data generation and analysis in this study. It is this theory that forms the theoretical keystone of the study. The study is located within a qualitative interpretivist paradigm and the main research methods comprise individual interviews and focus group discussions with 10 young women (16-18 years) from a single-sex school. The transcripts were analysed through the use of an inductive process which allow for the data to be scrutinised and categorised into themes. There were eight themes that emerged from the data which include; Love and dating, Love and Risk, Sex Education and risk awareness, Sexual coercion and gender dynamics, Mature partners and materiality, Substance abuse and sexual risk, Performing for peers and lastly Performing and challenging femininities. The data from this study shows that even though single-sex education is assumed to protect girls against gendered and sexual ideologies that place them at risk, many girls in single sex schools continue to reproduce conventional forms of femininity that perpetuate gender inequality that are detrimental to their sexual health. There were various social dynamics that affected the decisions that these young women made in relation to sexual activity. Peer pressure appeared to influence early sexual relations and the need to feel included within a social group was important to achieve social success. Many of these young women had compromised their ability to negotiate safe sex practices in order to please their partners and to maintain these relationships. While this is derived from the experiences of the majority of the young women interviewed, there were young women who suggested a certain degree of agency and demonstrated greater control over their sexual behaviour and sexual health, proving that experiences vary based on social context and that sexuality is in no way static.
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