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AIDS fatigue and university students’ talk about HIV risk

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Drawing on a qualitative study that included 20 focus group discussions with male and female students at an urban-based university in South Africa, this article reports on perceptions, attitudes and reported behaviour with respect to HIV and AIDS and safer sex in the campus setting, with an aim to better understand how young people are responding to the challenges of HIV and AIDS in contemporary South Africa. The findings demonstrate the gap between reported HIV-prevention knowledge and safer-sex practices among a group of young and educated South Africans. Although the participants reported that students were knowledgeable about HIV and had easy access to condoms on campus, a range of factors mediated their capacity to apply this knowledge to safer-sex practices. Besides the usual set of complex social-cultural dynamics, including normative gender roles and power inequalities between men and women, socioeconomic challenges, and differences in age and status between sexual partners, the findings reveal substantial denial, stigma and HIV/AIDS ‘fatigue.’ The findings point to the importance of seeking creative ways to impart HIV-prevention and safer-sex messages that are not explicitly referent to HIV but link rather with broader issues concerning relationships, lifestyle and identity, and hence are responsive to the particular cultural context of university campuses.
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Keywords: HIV prevention; attitudes; condom use; gender issues; risk perceptions; sexual behaviour; stigma

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Women's and Gender Studies,University of the Western Cape, Private Bag X17Cape Town,7535, South Africa 2: HIV/AIDS Programme,University of the Western Cape, Private Bag X17Cape Town,7535, South Africa

Publication date: 2012-06-01

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