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Objectives: To investigate how male street youths understand and express sexuality and cope with the HIV/AIDS risk in their daily lives.
Methods: In this ethnographic study, three focus group discussions guided by unstructured questions were held by the author and a peer facilitator with 30 street youths aged 15-24 years. Discussion themes focused on their daily problems and life experiences; perceptions of their future; boy-girl relationships; marriage and premarital sex; sexual socialization; sexuality; sexual norms; values and deviance; safe sex; condoms and condom use; and the nature, risk, and prevention of HIV/AIDS. All focus group discussions were tape recorded and transcribed into English, with additional notes taken during unstructured interviews.
Results: The main findings were that (1) HIV/AIDS was of relatively low concern to the street youths due to their preoccupation with survival in an adverse environment, (2) levels of HIV/AIDS knowledge were low, and common misconceptions about the nature, risk, transmission, and prevention of HIV indicated a lack of access to information, (3) contrary to expectations, the study group adhered to the traditional sexual mores and values of society, and (4) individuals were frustrated in their sexuality due to their socially marginalized position and fear of already having contracted HIV.
Conclusion and Recommendations: The precarious situation of street youths may not be conducive to mainstream HIV/AIDS prevention programs that emphasize abstinence and faithfulness. It is necessary first to reintegrate them into society, or at least meet basic food, employment, and shelter needs to render them receptive to health education. In addition, many fear they already have contracted HIV infection and are reluctant to be tested lest their fears be confirmed. Still, fear of HIV infection may be an entry point for prevention initiatives among street youth and other out-of-school adolescents if it is possible to give them hope in life and overcome their reluctance to confirm their HIV status.