Original Articles

An exploratory study of the individual determinants of students’ sexual risk behaviour at a South African university

Published in: African Journal of AIDS Research
Volume 11, issue 4, 2012 , pages: 353–359
DOI: 10.2989/16085906.2012.754836
Author(s): Given MutintaHealth Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division (HEARD), South Africa, Kaymarlin GovenderHealth Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division (HEARD), South Africa, Jeff GowHealth Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division (HEARD), South Africa, Gavin GeorgeHealth Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division (HEARD), South Africa


The prevalence of sexual risk behaviour is high on campuses at South African universities, putting many students at risk of HIV infection. This study explores individual influences on students’ sexual risk-taking behaviour at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The study collected cross-sectional data obtained between late 2008 and early 2010. A total of 80 in-depth interviews and four focus group discussions were conducted, allowing for an equal representation of males and females and a mix of different races (black, white, Indian and coloured) among students at two campuses (Howard College and Pietermaritzburg) and at different levels of study (undergraduate and postgraduate). The data were analysed using thematic analysis to identify factors associated with the students’ sexual risk behaviour. Sexual risk behaviour was found to be influenced by a range of individual factors, especially: personal beliefs about long-term relationships; attitudes towards sex for variety; a drive for material wealth; a lack of satisfaction in relationships; levels of trust and attention; pursuit of the long-term goal of marriage; and HIV denialism. As young adults, university students lack experience in assessing influences on their risk-taking behaviour, thus they require education on the individual risk factors that put them at risk of acquiring HIV infection. Likewise, the nature of these factors pose significant challenges to reducing sexual risk behaviour among university students.

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