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J Urban Health. 2006 Jul;83(4):709-22.

Gender role and relationship norms among young adults in South Africa: measuring the context of masculinity and HIV risk.

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  • 1Population Studies and Training Center, Brown University, Box 1836, Providence, RI 02912, USA. abigail_harrison@brown.edu

Abstract

In the global literature on HIV/AIDS, much attention has been paid to the role of gender inequalities in facilitating the transmission of HIV. For women, gender inequality may be manifested in sexual coercion, reduced negotiating power and partnering with older men, all practices that heighten risk for HIV. Less attention, however, has been paid to how men's relationship behaviors may place them at risk for HIV. Using six culturally specific psychometric scales developed in South Africa, this study examined men's and women's gender role and relationship norms, attitudes and beliefs in the context of ongoing partnerships. These measures were then examined in relation to four sexual risk behaviors: frequency of condom use (with primary or secondary partners) and number of partners (last 3 months and lifetime). Participants were 101 male and 199 female young adults aged, 18-24, recruited from a secondary school in northern KwaZulu/Natal province. Associations between gender and relationship scale scores and sexual risk outcomes yielded both expected and contradictory findings. For men, more frequent condom use was associated with higher levels of partner attachment (hyper-romanticism) but also with stronger approval of relationship violence and dominant behavior. In contrast, for women, more frequent condom use was correlated with a lower endorsement of relationship violence. Men with lower relationship power scores had fewer sexual partners in the preceding 3 months, while women with more egalitarian sexual scripts reported more sexual partners, as did those with higher hyper-romanticism scores. In logistic regression analysis, more egalitarian relationship norms among men were predictive of less consistent condom use, as were higher relationship power scores for women. These findings are discussed in relation to previous research on gender, heterosexual interactions and masculinity in this area, as well as the implications for HIV prevention programs.

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