Based on over 50 revealing questions and over 138 954 frank responses, the YoungAfricaLive Youth Sex Survey reveals that whilst South Africa’s
youth are unquestionably sexually active (44%), they have strong views on the role of HIV/Aids in sexual encounters, with a massive 81% equating ‘not telling a sexual partner that you carry the virus’ to outright murder.
In other findings, the survey showed that 66% of the responders identified themselves as less likely to have sex after they had been drinking with 33% admitting that they would be more likely to. The good news for national government’s drive to use circumcision as part of an overall HIV prevention programme, a huge number of females – 78% – stated very clearly that they prefer their partner circumcised.
The YoungAfricaLive Youth Sex Survey results were released by the Praekelt Foundation during the GSMA mHealth (Mobile Health) Summit, at the Cape Town International Convention Centre from 6-9 June. The Summit has seen Praekelt Foundation contribute its expertise and knowledge on how to take mobile interventions to scale, to bring health care solutions to poor people in Africa and beyond.
The groundbreaking survey is based on polls run on the YoungAfricaLive platform since December 2010. The polls responders are all YoungAfricaLive users (currently, YoungAfricaLive can only be access on the Vodacom platform, Vodafone Live), with 51% being over 16 but under 24, and 35% over 24 but under 35. Although users on YoungAfricaLive are not required to make public full details of who they are, responders to the polls and the very active comments element of the platform suggests that users are around 65% urban with the rest of the users located in rural areas, with a representation in all provinces of the country. The split between male and female appears to be relatively even although the latter are visibly more active on the comments section of the platform. The fact that use of the YoungAfricaLive platform is free for users – who can access it even if they don’t have airtime – has added to its extensive reach.
Says Gustav Praekelt, Founder of the Praekelt Foundation: “Since our launch in December 2009, YoungAfricaLive has grown to become South Africa’s largest mobile community for young people. We now stand at around 360 000 unique users and we’re growing at a rate of 30 000 new users a month who are using the platform as a place to talk to each other and educate themselves about sex, love and relationships.
“It’s this thundering mass of young, engaged South Africans whose sexual behaviour and views we are now seeing in our first-ever YoungAfricaLive Youth Sex Survey.”
What’s striking about the polls used to drive the Youth Sex Survey is how responsive the users are with a question like “Would You Abstain From Sex” drawing 5085 responses (37% yes, 44% no and 17% maybe). Similarly a question about how far South Africa has come in the fight against HIV/Aids elicited a massive 7900 responses with 62% stating it was a “devastating illness that is killing our youth. More needs to be done.”
Tamsen de Beer of content company Traffik, and content editor of YoungAfricaLive, says since the platform began running polls in December 2010, the interaction by users has exploded. “If we put a poll on the homepage of the platform it gets pretty much an instant response from our users,” she explains. “We use News and Entertainment stories to spark debate around the bigger questions of love, sex and relationships – and youths are ready and willing to share their own experiences with each other. Everybody’s heart has been broken. Everybody wonders if their partner is cheating on them. Asked to express themselves in a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ provides a snapshot of youth sentiment – and they love seeing how their peers have responded, too.”
Indeed, a question around “How many wives is too many” also earned a strong response from users, with 79% saying one is enough and just 10% agreeing with the likes of President Jacob Zuma and musician Mbongeni Ngema in embracing polygamy. In another popular poll, a striking number -82% – of users confessed to preferring money to sex.
Gustav Praekelt points to the fact that some of the responses that have emerged in the YAL Youth Sex Survey are cause for concern.
For instance, a worrying 40% of respondents believe that “The sexual exploitation of schoolgirls by their teachers is a 2-way street” with only 35% believing it is “always an abuse of power”. Even more worrying, perhaps, is the belief by 23% of YoungAfricaLive users that 1 in 4 South African men rape because “too many women wear revealing clothes”.
“But the power of this platform is that it is their peers who can start to point users in the direction of the right message – stepping in as educators in the absence of parents for instance,” comments Praekelt.
“It’s this youth-to-youth interaction that was the starting point for YoungAfricaLive and its users are proving that it’s the right mechanism to give young South Africans a safe place to gain knowledge and make their feelings known – not just about HIV/Aids and sex, but also about love and relationships.”
Future plans for YoungAfricaLive include a facility for users to receive the help of professionals, should they require and request it – and Praekelt Foundation is currently in discussion with the Department of Health around this important new element. The platform’s plans to expand into Africa, where similar issues are faced by the youth, are also well along the way.
“Because youth are engaging very frankly on this portal, it’s become a real barometer of SA youth sentiment around love, sexual health, relationships – and much more,” says De Beer. “We read a lot about what Western youth have to say about sex. African youths tend to be represented only by statistics.
So if we can gain insight into the thoughts and feelings that motivate African youth to behave in ways that lead to those statistical tallies, then we’re doing something useful!” (Sapa, Health24, June 2011)