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Multiple partnerships among young college students in Durban: perspectives and experiences.

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Multiple sexual partnerships remain one of the main drivers of HIV in the sub-Saharan African region. While young people are vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, they are more likely than adults to engage in risky sexual behaviours such as multiple sexual partnerships and unprotected sexual practices. Younger people in higher education institutions often engage in risky sexual behaviours to sustain their university lifestyle. Studies suggest that young people face financial challenges when they get to university, which often leads them to try to obtain financial support from their partners in exchange for material gains. Power dynamics are recognised in such relationships, and this puts women’s health at risk and leads to intimate partner violence, sexual coercion, inability to negotiate condom-use and increased alcohol consumption. For that reason, the aim of this study was to unpack the perspectives and experiences of students pertaining to multiple sexual partnerships in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. Qualitative data used in this study was collected from 20 young male and female students aged 20 years and over. The findings of this study showed male students are more likely than female students to report having multiple sexual partnerships. It was clear that Zulu cultural beliefs and values promote multiple sexual partners for men, noting that a man is only a ‘real’ man when he has more than one sexual partner. However, sexual double standards exist, as men are praised for their sexual relations with multiple women, whereas girls and women are derogated, stigmatised and labelled negatively for similar behaviours. Students also noted facilitating factors of multiple sexual partnerships, noting the importance of maintaining cultural norms and values pertaining to manhood through polygamy for family survival and growth. In addition, students emphasized that social media, desire for financial support and long-distance relationships facilitated their engagement in multiple sexual partnerships. On the other hand, inhibiting factors included religion, noting that engaging in sexual behaviours outside of wedlock is a sin and immoral. Additionally, students also noted that the fear of contracting sexual transmitted diseases and being stigmatised for engaging in multiple sexual partnerships inhibited them from engaging in such activities. Overall, this study recommends engaging young men and women in sexual and reproductive health rights conversations to make them understand how such risky sexual behaviours poses a serious threat to the overall health outcomes and longevity.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.