Survey Reveals ‘Frightening’ Findings About Sex Among South Africa’s Teens
"Not only are many children starting to have sex fresh out of primary school, but they are doing it in the shadow of an AIDS pandemic that threatens to rob them of what should be a bright future," Laurice Taitz writes in a South Africa's Sunday Times "Insight" op-ed. Taitz cites a report commissioned by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and published by loveLife examining the sexual habits of the nation's teenagers. The "largest-ever national survey" of South African youth between the ages of 12 and 17 found that one in three young people is sexually experienced, and of that group the average age of first sexual encounter was 13. The study also found that those in rural areas and those not attending school were more likely to report being sexually experienced. And while most of the adolescents surveyed list HIV/AIDS as "one of their greatest concerns," they seem "dangerously ignorant of how their sexual behavior puts them at risk," Taitz writes. Nine out of 10 report having heard of AIDS, but "such basic awareness fails to translate into meaningful behavior change." Taitz writes, "At the present rate of infection, one in two South Africans under the age of 15 is expected to die of AIDS-related causes in the next 10 years." But despite these estimates, the topic of sex remains "taboo" and many adults feel "squeamish" discussing it. Many of the respondents said they learn about sex from "friends, from visitors to their school, TV and magazines" while "few" said they learn from their parents. And while it may be "reassuring" that 90% of the nation's youth have heard of AIDS, one in 10 has not, and they are largely concentrated in the "central regions -- informal settlements and rural areas in the Northern Province and North West" -- where sex is a "way of alleviating boredom," Taitz continues. Forty percent of those surveyed think AIDS can be cured, and only 20% who have heard of AIDS know it can be transmitted from man to man. Many of the boys surveyed "insisted that it is their partner's responsibility to take precautions" and refuse to wear a condom. One in three girls reported having been "forced" to have sex against their will at one time or another. In this context, Taitz writes, "the use of the word 'partner' with its connotations of consensus, is a complete misnomer." Taitz concludes that the survey "reveals that, when it comes to frank, open discussions about sex, South Africa's teens are often being failed by the government, the church and their parents." The Sunday Times will publish the report in its entirety this weekend (Taitz, Sunday Times, 3/4).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.