Why do young people engage in dating relationships during early adolescence? An inter-generational qualitative analysis from Blantyre, Malawi

Annie D. Smith, Effie Chipeta, William Stones, Kristin Mmari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Engagement in dating relationships plays an important role in the health trajectories of young people, particularly during the early adolescent period between ages 10–14. Yet little is known about such relationships among youth in low resource contexts. This study sought to contribute to the literature on this topic by exploring reasons why school-going young people aged 12–14 years engage in dating relationships in Blantyre, Malawi. A thematic analysis was used to code and analyse in-depth interview data from 23 young people and 19 caregivers. Against the backdrop of growing sexual desires and feelings of attraction, participants stressed harassment from boys and coercion from older men, peer pressure, social status attainment, financial deprivation and encouragement during initiation ceremonies as reasons for engaging in dating relationships. Girls were found to be subject to multiple power dynamics—including gender power relations, as well as power dynamics within same-gender peer groups—that influenced their sex and relationship involvement. These findings carry implications for the design and timing of sexual and reproductive health youth programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa and emphasise the need for multi-level interventions to address the multiple influences in young people’s dating lives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalCulture, Health and Sexuality
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

Keywords

  • dating relationships
  • Early adolescence
  • Malawi
  • sexual activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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

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