Year: 2007
Working paper number: 186
Author: Kahn, Lauren
Unit: SSU

This paper explores decision-making around sexual abstinence among white, English-speaking adolescent girls in Fish Hoek, a middle-class neighbourhood in Cape Town, South Africa. The girls participated in a focus group and 1-2 individual, semi-structured interview/s. Sexual abstinence is found to be a strategy geared towards promoting emotional and relational well-being, rather than primarily geared towards promoting physical health and well-being. Decision-making around sexual abstinence is found to be value-laden, bound up in the meaning and value the participants attach to sex and sexual relationships, values and ideology surrounding marriage, as well as religious values and moral codes. Adolescent sexual decision-making is found to be socially mediated by dominant peer group sexual norms which value sexual promiscuity over sexual abstinence. Pressure to conform to dominant sexual norms and practices is found to be part of a nexus of social pressures facing young people more generally. Supportive family environments and relationships with affirming peers are found to play a pivotal role in sustaining counter-normative strategies such as sexual abstinence. Problematically, girls who engage in counter-normative sexual strategies such as abstinence experience ambivalence and insecurities which can feed into and reproduce sexual norms which devalue abstinence. Furthermore, counter-normative sexual strategies are underpinned by, and reproduce, other problematic hegemonic sexual discourses. Designing interventions that are geared towards sustaining positive sexual decision-making, and 'safe' sexual practices in the long-term, and not solely towards changing 'risky' sexual practices, is recommended.

Publication file: WP186.pdf