Making sense of abstinence: Social representations in young Africans' HIV-related narratives from six countries

Kate Winskell, Laura K. Beres, Elizabeth Hill, Benjamin Chigozie Mbakwem, Oby Obyerodhyambo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite the prominence of abstinence promotion in HIV prevention for young Africans, there is little documentation concerning its reception and interpretation. With the purpose of informing programmatic practice, we examined how young Africans from six countries with contrasting HIV prevalence rates make sense of abstinence. 'Scenarios from Africa' scriptwriting contests invite young people to contribute ideas for short films about HIV. Using thematic narrative-based approaches, we analyzed a stratified random sample of these narratives written in 2005 by young women and men aged 10-24 years from Senegal, Burkina Faso, South-East Nigeria, Kenya, Namibia and Swaziland. Abstinence was considerably more prominent as a theme in the samples from SE Nigeria, Kenya and Swaziland. It was articulated in relation to conservative Christian sexual morality and in opposition to condom use with particular intensity in SE Nigeria, with stigmatising implications for non-abstainers. However, cross-national commonalities were more striking than differences. Examples of non-stigmatising proabstinence messaging highlighted the appeal of discourses of romantic love and future plans across countries and demographic characteristics. The analysis yielded contextual understanding, youth-driven ideas and recommendations to inform comprehensive HIV-prevention efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)945-959
Number of pages15
JournalCulture, Health and Sexuality
Issue number8
StatePublished - Sep 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Abstinence
  • Africa
  • HIV
  • Narratives
  • Young people

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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