Poison in the honey: Gender ideologies, sexual relations, and the risk of HIV among youth in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Date of Completion

January 2000


Anthropology, Cultural|Health Sciences, Public Health




Research on the risk of HIV/AIDS among youth in Africa has often focused on sexual behaviors, but does not describe the larger contexts in which they take place. In addition, much of the research frames youth sexuality in terms of problems and consequences, without exploring youth's constructions of sexuality. My research looks beyond reported sexual behaviors for HIV risk by examining the role of gender ideologies in shaping the sexuality of female and male youth in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and the connection of these ideologies to the larger contexts of their lives. Topics include an overview of the socio-economic features of Tanzania, a description of how adolescents become involved in sexual relationships, sexual behaviors within the context of these different relationships, and meanings attached to these relationships. Youth were trained to assist in the collection of in-depth interviews (N = 120), focus group discussions (N = 17), structured interviews (i.e., freelists, pilesorts), observations, and a random survey (N = 403) of youth between the ages of 13 and 22, both in- and out-of-school, living in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. ^ In contrast to much of the literature that portrays young women living in African countries as victims of larger forces who are forced to have sexual relations with little ability to protect themselves, I found that young women actually pursue sexual relationships for a number of reasons, including love, physical desire, and future considerations. Male youth are relatively free to express their sexual desires, but they receive little or no guidance in these matters. I also found that ideologies of males being a provider in the current economic context leads some males to choose not to be in sexual relationships, and that males are concerned with issues of love, loyalty and deception. Understanding the dynamics of relationships among youth within specific cultural settings will help to expand and improve our understanding of youth sexuality and assist in HIV prevention efforts. ^