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On the virgin cleansing myth: gendered bodies, AIDS and ethnomedicine

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The belief that HIV/AIDS can be cured as a result of having sex with a virgin has been identified as a possible factor in the rape of babies and children in South Africa. While the prevalence of this myth has been a matter of concern in local communities for some time, there have been recent attempts to discern the extent to which this belief is exacerbating perceived increases in child rape and the rate of new HIV infections nationwide. This article attempts to reveal the systematic logic upon which is based the idea of 'virgin cleansing' as a therapeutic response to HIV/AIDS amongst the Zulu. Based on ethnographic research in several peri-urban settlements of KwaZulu-Natal province, key aspects of ethnomedical knowledge associated with notions of 'dirt' and women's bodies are examined along with the metaphors that inform local interpretations of HIV/AIDS. The author argues that closer attention paid to the shaping influence of cultural schemas are critical to better understanding belief-behaviour linkages in the context of rape and AIDS.


Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Anthropology Programme, University of Natal, Durban, South Africa

Publication date: 2002-11-01

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