Age-disparate sexual relationships increase

2015-11-04 06:00

THE increased number of young girls engaging in age-disparate sexual relationships is one of the main contributing factors to the high level of HIV rates among female teenagers which led to the launch of the provincial ‘Anti-Sugar Daddy’ campaign.

Speaking at a recent conference at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Professor Beverley Haddad, senior research­ associate at the School of Religion­, Philosophy and Classics, reported that young women are engaging in these relationships for different reasons based on whether they come from a rural or urban background.

For girls from a rural background sugar daddies are sought in order to fund some of their basic needs like access­ to education, health services and food as a result of unemployment in the family. This money enables them to buy basic luxuries like soap and snacks. In this instance the demand on the girl is to follow the traditional culture of respect, and in some instances fear, older men.

For urban girls, the reasons are quite different. In these cases sugar daddies are sought for material and financial­ benefits and to gain status among their friends by being able to attract the attention of an older man who is perceived as being more caring and respectful.

Regardless of the reasons these relationships show a decreased use of condoms, earlier age of sexual debut, forced or coerced sex and an increased vulnerability of HIV for women.

“The young are not just victims but active agents in choosing the numbers and type of partners. Generally these relationships are seen not to pose any risk, but in some instances is quite the opposite. However, the benefits of the relationships, for the girls, outweigh the risks,” Haddad reported.

Professor Deevia Bhana, while presenting her study titled “Sex, gender and money in African teenage conceptions of love in the HIV context” at UKZN’s Public Health Department, said the sexual debut age is currently at around 14, but is declining.

“This presents both concerns and opportunities in order to face the issue head on in ways that are revolutionary. We cannot proceed to work with children as being sexually ignorant because this has proved to be ineffective, outdated and doesn’t come from the perspective of what young people want and do,” she said.

The study focuses on teenagers and the ways in which they negotiate relationship dynamics and the social processes through which they give meaning to relationships and to sex.

Bhana said the economic contexts have effects on teenage sexualities. The study raised concerns about young women’s idealisation of men with money and women’s vulnerability to crime and violence in extreme settings.

She said teenagers engage in and are motivated by sex, but without the accompanying support for their health and sexual well-being. “The stigmatising of childhood sexuality has inadvertently increased the pressure on teenagers to engage with sex in a secretive manner, increasing the burdens related to teenage pregnancy, vulnerability to HIV and violence. We have tried far too long to deny childhood sexuality. We need something new which permits an understanding of children beyond sexual ignorance.

“Supporting law which decriminalises sex amongst consenting young people is an advancement and a move in the right direction,” said Bhana.

Young women are engaging in these relationships for different reasons based on whether they come from a rural or urban background. For girls from a rural background sugar daddies are sought in order to fund some of their basic needs

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