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Cult Health Sex. 2013;15 Suppl:34-47. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2013.764016. Epub 2013 Apr 29.

"I thought we are safe": Southern African lesbians' experiences of living with HIV.

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  • 1Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA), University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa.


HIV-prevention and service programmes have long either ignored or overlooked lesbians. The experiences of lesbians with HIV have similarly been unrecognised and unreported. This erasure has contributed to the invisibility of lesbians in relation to HIV and related health risks. This community participatory study, based on in-depth interviews with 24 self-identifying African lesbians living with HIV in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia, focuses on their personal experiences and circumstances. Women's experiences shed light and challenge popular notions around lesbian risk. In particular among this group are lesbians who self-report exclusive sexual relationships with women. For these women, experiences of living with HIV are challenging as they struggle to understand the possibility of female-to-female transmission. While battling with their own perceptions of invulnerability and accepting their HIV-positive status, they have to deal also with wide-ranging misconceptions about risk. The paper argues that within the context of HIV, lesbians cannot be regarded as a 'no-risk' group. Health services and health providers are encouraged to respond to the health needs of lesbians living with HIV.

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