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GHANA STUDIES / Volume 9 ISSN 1536-5514 / E-ISSN 2333-7168© 2008 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 123 (A)SEXUALIZING GHANAIAN YOUTH? A Case Study of Virgin Clubs1 in Accra and Kumasi AKOSUA K. DARKWAH ALEXINA ARTHUR Introduction In the early 1980s, HIV/AIDS, first diagnosed in gay men living on the West Coast of the United States, gripped the imagination of Western scientists regarding its origins, transmission and cure. However, the disease has over the years come to be associated with Africa since the world’s largest population of people living with HIV and AIDS are found on the continent. Of the 33.2 million people currently living with HIV/AIDS, 22.5 million (67.7 percent) live in Africa (UNAIDS 2007), mostly in Eastern and Southern Africa. In the efforts to curb this pandemic, there has been an explosion in the growth of NGOs that focus on HIV/AIDS. While some of these NGOs work with people living with HIV/AIDS, others, such as Virgin Clubs, focus on prevention among the general population. In general, the threepronged communication campaign, “Abstain,” “Be Faithful” and “Condom Use” (A-B-C), has been used in the attempt to reduce the rate of HIV/AIDS infections in Ghana. However, since the election into power of President George W. Bush in 2000, abstinence has increasingly become the catchphrase for preventive campaigns; his administration has provided millions of dollars in funding for abstinence programs across the United States and beyond. Research on the effectiveness or lack thereof of such an approach 1. This article is a shortened version of a report originally written as part of the “Mapping African Sexualities Project” which was coordinated by the African Gender Institute in Cape Town, South Africa and the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support provided by the Ford Foundation for the Project. 124 Ghana Studies • volume 9 • 2006 abounds (Bruckner and Bearman 2005; Stoneburner and Low-Beer 2004; Kilian et al. 1999). Much less emphasis has been placed on the opportunities that this approach provides for patriarchal control over women’s bodies and women’s responses to this control. This study seeks to bridge the lacuna in the literature on HIV/AIDS prevention by interrogating the phenomenon of Virgin Clubs which African feminist scholars such as Patricia McFadden, see as a quintessential example of the “vigilante surveillance of women’s sexual and erotic inclinations” (McFadden 2003:56). This study of three Virgin Clubs in Ghana seeks to document the extent to which these clubs in their insistence on virginity provide yet one more avenue for patriarchal control of female bodies and the response of females to this form of control. The term “virgin” is often defined narrowly to refer to someone, usually female, who has not had sexual intercourse of the penis and vagina variety and thus has not had her hymen broken (Sa’ar 2004: 7). Such a definition of a virgin precludes an awareness of the multifaceted nature of sexuality . Sexuality connotes much more than just intercourse. It also involves pleasing oneself with or without a partner, or being pleasured in a way that makes one feel sexual. This may or may not involve an orgasm. Being a virgin, then, is not simply about the biological fact of possessing a hymen. Virginity, as conceptualized by Buitelaar (2002:465) and Parla (2001:90), has two dimensions: the biological and the cognitive. Biological virginity refers to the physiological state of having an un-broken hymen, while the cognitive refers to a purity of mind with regards to things sexual, such as a lack of awareness of pornographic material. Virginity therefore, is not an either/or state of having an unbroken hymen, but rather a continuum of “purity” where one could be a biological virgin, but not a cognitive virgin. Much more emphasis is placed on biological virginity than on cognitive virginity because biological virginity, which can lend itself to testing, provides an avenue for patriarchal control. As Hastrup (1993: 34) puts it: Darkwah and Arthur • (A)Sexualizing Ghanaian Youth? 125 When it comes to an analysis of sexuality and reproduction as social...


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