HIV and AIDS remains one of the most serious problems facing youths in many sub-Saharan African countries. Among young people in South Africa, gender is linked with a number of HIV-risk behaviours and outcomes. The literature suggests that factors such as socioeconomic status, intimate partner violence, and several psychosocial factors contribute to gendered differences in sexual behaviour among youths in South Africa. However, the existing body of literature scarcely addresses the interaction between gender, confounding factors (particularly peer norms) and sexual behaviour outcomes. This study uses a survey design (n = 809) to examine how gender and socioeconomic status moderate the effects of norms and attitudes on higher-risk sexual behaviours among secondary school learners in a low-income community in South Africa. The findings suggest that gender interacts significantly with peer norms to predict sexual behaviour. Peer norms and the experience of intimate partner violence were significantly associated with sexual risk behaviour among girls participating in the study. The article discusses both the wider implications of these findings and the implications for school-based and peer-facilitated HIV interventions.
African Journal of AIDS Research (2010) 9 (4) 355-366.