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“Bend a Fish When the Fish Is Not Yet Dry”: Adolescent Boys’ Perceptions of Sexual Risk in Tanzania


Despite decades of effort, the spread of HIV/AIDS continues among many African young people. A key contributor is unsafe sexual behavior that is desired, persuaded, or coerced. We explored the masculinity norms shaping pubescent boys’ perceptions of and engagement in (unsafe) sexual behaviors in Tanzania. Through a comparative case study in rural and urban Tanzania, qualitative and participatory methods were used with 160 adolescent boys in and out of school to better understand the social and contextual factors promoting unsafe sexual behaviors. Adolescent boys in both the rural and urban sites reported struggling with intense sexual desires, strong peer pressures to have sex, and social norms dissuading condom use. A growing “normalization” of AIDS suggests messages promoting the dangers of HIV infection may be less effective. Findings reinforce the need for interventions with very young adolescents. Research is needed to identify more effective approaches for promoting safer sexual practices among boys in sub-Saharan Africa. Harm reduction approaches and gender transformative approaches might prove more effective than current HIV prevention efforts focused on youth.

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We would like to gratefully acknowledge funding support form the National Institutes of Child Health and Development (NICHD). We would also like to express our deepest gratitude to our research assistant, Daniel Maro, our Tanzanian colleagues in the Ministry of Education and the field sites, and to all the young men and adults who kindly provided time and information that made this research possible. We would also like to thank Constance Nathanson, Jennifer Hirsch and Richard Parker for the excellent input they provided to strengthen the article.

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Correspondence to Marni Sommer.

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Sommer, M., Likindikoki, S. & Kaaya, S. “Bend a Fish When the Fish Is Not Yet Dry”: Adolescent Boys’ Perceptions of Sexual Risk in Tanzania. Arch Sex Behav 44, 583–595 (2015).

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  • Adolescent health
  • Boys
  • Sexual behaviors
  • Tanzania