The purpose of this paper is to examine the influence of social context on young people's sexual lives and sexual health, and to highlight the need for HIV prevention and sexual health programmes which better take into account these contextual influences.
The paper draws on findings from a multi‐method, qualitative study involving young people aged between 11‐24 years, conducted in three rural areas in Uganda. Data were collected by means of 52 single‐sex focus group discussions, 117 in‐depth interviews, and further participatory research with 23 of these young men and women. Contextual information was gathered through interviews with parents (17), teachers (7), religious leaders (7), local clan leaders (6), community‐based NGO/CBO workers (12) and local government staff (33).
Local beliefs about age and gender suggest that intimate relationships and sexual behaviour among young people are forbidden, or at least should be hidden. Social norms produced and reproduced both by adults and young people themselves increase the likelihood of secretive, unprotected sexual relations, and inhibit young people's ability to seek sexual health‐related support and advice.
An understanding of these contextual influences has important implications for improving the design of HIV prevention and sexual health programming in rural communities in Uganda.
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