New infections with HIV remain an urgent problem among young people in Africa, but many young Africans pursue sexual relationships with little thought about the epidemic. This book examines young people's sexual relationships in a region typical of rural sub-Saharan Africa and investigates why the risk of HIV infection generally was not a salient concern for them. It is based on an extraordinarily large and representative qualitative study that was affiliated with an adolescent sexual health intervention trial and included three person-years of participant observation conducted by young East Africans in nine Tanzanian villages.
The book describes typical patterns of sexual relationship formation in adolescence and early adult life, the variety of young people's relationships and practices, and the contradictory social ideals and expectations that led premarital and extramarital relationships to be concealed. Young men's main motivations for sex were pleasure and masculine identity, while young women's was to receive money or materials to meet their basic needs, such as soap or a daytime meal. By their late teens most young people had experienced one-time sexual encounters, open-ended opportunistic relationships, and "main" sometimes semi-public partnerships. Relationships could involve desire, possessiveness, and affection, but romantic idealization of a partner was rare. Many young people expected their partners to be monogamous, but themselves had had concurrent relationships by age 20. The practice of hiding premarital sexual relationships from adults often also concealed them from other sexual partners, which helped maintain concurrency and inhibited realistic risk perception. Understanding of the biology of HIV/AIDS was very limited. Condoms were rarely used because they were associated with reduced pleasure, infection and promiscuity. Sexually transmitted infections were common, but several factors hindered young people from seeking biomedical treatment for them. Many instead relied on tradit
Mary Louisa Plummer —
Mary Louisa Plummer is a consultant to the UK Medical Research Council's Social and Public Health Sciences Unit. She lives in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Daniel Wight —
Daniel Wight leads the Sexual Health and Families Program at the UK Medical Research Council's Social and Public Health Sciences Unit in Glasgow, Scotland.
Plummer, Mary Louisa. Young people's lives and sexual relationships in rural Africa: findings from a large qualitative study in Tanzania, by Mary Louisa Plummer and Daniel Wight. Lexington Books, 2011. 444p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780739135785; ISBN 9780739135808 e-book. Reviewed in 2012mar CHOICE.
This study conducted during 1999-2002 is concentrated on the young people in rural Mwanza Region, northern Tanzania, on the southern shore of Lake Victoria. The area is occupied mostly by Sukuma and smaller ethnic groups, all of whom speak Swahili. Only 7 percent of Tanzania's school-age population was enrolled in secondary education. The research evaluated the MEMA kwa Vijana project that aimed at educating young people about sexual activity and HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy. The vast majority of young women was sexually active and in relations--fleeting as they may have been--with men who supplied gifts or direct payment for sex. Only 12 percent of 15-19-year-old women reported ever having used contraceptive methods, mostly condoms. Plummer and Wight (both, UK Medical Research Council) suggest that (illegal) abortion was practiced widely. Counseling and behavior modification were most active in the realm of sexually transmitted infections. Many villagers in this study believed "real" AIDS was sexually transmitted, but also believed that a separate AIDS-mimicking illness was caused by witchcraft. Restrictive norms, rather than the threat of HIV infection, constrained sexual activity. The inclusion of detailed case studies makes this study personal and supplies depth. There is a Swahili and Sukuma glossary.
Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students, faculty, professionals. -- B. M. du Toit, emeritus, University of Florida