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University of KwaZulu-Natal female students’ perceptions of female sexuality and influence on sexual behaviour and HIV and AIDS prevention.

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Young women in South Africa are four times fold infected and predisposed to HIV and Aids as compared to young men as well as women of other age groups. An area that has been highlighted as crucial in understanding the disparities and possibly providing insights on addressing the impact of the pandemic on young women is female sexuality. An understanding on female sexuality specifically contextual definitions, expectations associated with it and behaviours thereof, provides insights on parameters in which young women make sexual choices and decisions and implications on sexual behaviour and HIV and AIDS prevention choices. This paper explored how young women at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, located in what is recognised as the hotspot for HIV and AIDS in South Africa perceive and understand female sexuality within the university context however with a backdrop of their wider culture. The paper investigated the impact of the perceptions on young women’s sexual behaviour and implication on choices and decisions young women make in line with HIV and AIDS prevention. To achieve its set objectives, the paper mobilised Culture –centred approach and empowerment theory to offer a theoretical lens from which the topic was grounded, approached and interrogated. Using a qualitative approach to research, involving the use of a bodymapping exercise together with individual semi-structured interviews, data was collected involving eight female students of Zulu origin at Howard College campus, a constitute college of University of Kwazulu-Natal. Key findings of the study revealed that young women at the University of KwaZulu-Natal are faced with two main contrasting notions of female sexuality i.e. from the university and the community from where they draw perceptions on female sexuality. University notions of female sexuality were indicated to predominantly define sexuality in line with sexual freedom, independence while community notions were slanted towards sexual chastity, naivety and silence. The young women in the study suggested to be impacted by both contexts, choosing what to embrace or not based on personal reasons. In line with the impact of the perceptions on sexual choices, varying impacts were noted from one participant to another nevertheless, a majority of the participants exemplified being in control and empowered to make and enforce sexual choices and decisions in line with personal interests and agendas. In the same light, the participants exhibited an awareness and agency to make personal and empowered choices in relation to HIV and AIDS prevention for them and partners for instance condom use and HIV testing. Nevertheless, the study highlighted complacency as a stumbling block to making and enforcing HIV and AIDS prevention choices in the long run for instance continuous condom use, making them susceptible to HIV and AIDS infections. The study highlighted the need for narratives to normalise continuous condom usage as well as regular HIV testing for young women even in long term stable relationships to ensure protection for HIV and AIDS for young women.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.