Inside the sex lives of students

2013-11-10 10:00

South African students are far more conservative and outdated in their attitudes towards sex – with themselves and other people – than many might expect from young adults between the ages of 18 and 24.

Sexologist Dorothy Black, who has just completed a survey with student website Student Village, said the results surprised her.

“Our students are conservative and working from very outdated models of sex, sexuality and relationships,” she said. Women are still very much objects and lack ownership of their bodies and sexuality,” she said.

The survey also found that many of the 4 500 students interviewed believe women with multiple sexual partners are sluts, that homosexuality is a sin and that masturbation is absolutely taboo.

Student Village interviewed students online and on campuses across the country, trying to understand more about their sexual experiences, knowledge about sexual health and attitudes towards sexuality and relationships.

The survey explored things like masturbation in detail, asking students whether they enjoyed a little self-love, and how and when they indulged.

But 33% of women respondents shied away from the topic entirely, saying they had never masturbated.

Their male counterparts were far more likely to have masturbated – just more than 16% of men surveyed said they’d never let their own hands stray below their belts.

City Press spoke to several students about the findings.

Tlou Manaka (22), a journalism student at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), said: “I don’t think that women are objects, we all want to have sex and as much as we want that, guys also want the same thing. So why label us women as objects if we all want to have sex?”

Manaka wasn’t shy about masturbation.

She said: “When I am alone I play with myself and get all the satisfaction I need.”

But another student from UJ, Siphathisiwe Mangena (23), was troubled by the idea of masturbation. Nonetheless, she said: “I wouldn’t mind buying a vibrator to help myself.”

The survey wasn’t just about the nitty-gritty of sex – it posed serious questions, too.

Black said it was clear from the responses that “HIV and sexually transmitted infections are regarded as less of a problem than falling pregnant”.

Particularly “disturbing” for Black was students’ lack of knowledge about sexual assault.

“There is still a very disturbing grey area of what is considered sexual assault,” she said.

Manaka agreed with this finding, saying she didn’t really know what sexual assault is.

But Mangena said she understood the concept completely.

“If you look at me in a sexual manner I am not offended, but if you touch my hand then I feel violated,” she explained.

Another surprise for Black was students’ attitudes to homosexuality.

About half of those surveyed believed that homosexuality was a sin, 42% said it was natural and 29% described it as “un-African”.

They were also asked whether they would come out of the closet about their sexuality – and 30% said they would not.

Themba Maneli (23), a marketing student at Vaal University of Technology, said he would have been among that 30%.

He said: “We live in a patriarchal society which is ignorant. If I was gay I wouldn’t come out at all, my family wouldn’t allow that. I would easily remain in the closet.”

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