Prevalence and correlates of anal sex among secondary school students in Cape Town, South Africa
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Research efforts have overlooked anal sex as a risk factor for adolescents’ acquisition of HIV despite the high rates of HIV among South African youth. Here, we report findings from a survey conducted in 2012 among secondary school youth, ages 16–24, in Cape Town. 937 adolescents completed a pencil-and-paper survey. Eleven and 31% of female and male youth, respectively, reported ever having anal sex. By comparison, 59% and 78% of female and male youth reported ever having vaginal sex. The percentage of youth reporting lifetime rates of anal sex increased with age: 32% of 20-to-24 year olds had anal sex compared to 16% of 16-to-17-year olds. When the sample was stratified by sex, this difference appeared to be driven by older male, but not female, sexual behavior. Despite noted differences in prevalence rates by sex, both boys and girls who had anal sex were more likely than their same-sex peers who had vaginal sex to report sexual coercion victimization and perpetration experiences and inconsistent condom use. Interestingly, some differences in HIV motivation, information, and behavioral skills were noted for youth who had vaginal sex versus youth who had never had sex; scores were largely similar for youth who had anal sex versus youth who had never had sex however. Together, these findings suggest that anal sex is not uncommon and may be an important marker for other HIV risk behaviors in at least one lower income South African community. Anal sex needs to be explicitly discussed in adolescent HIV prevention and healthy sexuality programing, incorporating age-relevant scenarios about negotiating condoms and other healthy relationship behaviors (e.g., refusing sex when it is not wanted).