Negotiating sexuality: informal sexual cultures amongst young people at a township high school in KwaZulu-Natal.
Zibane, Sibonsile Zerurcia.
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This thesis is an ethnography of teenage girls and boys in grade 11 who are located in a township school in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. Against the backdrop of major social and health problems in the country, including gender and sexual violence, high levels of teenage pregnancy and young women’s particular vulnerability to HIV, an understanding of the ways in which young people’s sexualities are constructed are crucial for addressing sexuality education programmes to intervene against risky sexual behaviour. The ethnographic study is framed within feminist post-structuralist theory and draw on the tenets of social constructuralist paradigm in exploring the participants’ realities. The study is based on two purposively selected grade 11 classes. The data was collected by means of participant observations, focus groups and conversations with teenage learners between the ages of 16 and 18 years old. The first class was a mixed sex group of 12 boys and 20 girls. The second class was a predominantly boys’ class of 22 boys and 3 girls. The study explores the meanings and significance which the teenage girls and boys attach to sexuality in their everyday lives; and the ways they define, position and group themselves as boys and girls in relation to dominant discourses of sexuality. This study argues that, for effective sexuality education programmes, we need to pay close attention to how young people’s knowledge about gender and sexuality is produced and reproduced. In a setting where young people are constructed as either sexually innocent or sexually deviant and where teen sexual agency is viewed as dangerous and an impediment to the academic purpose of schooling, grade 11 learners construct sex and sexuality as a positive development that enables active, self-aware, pleasure-seeking agents to negotiate their identities. Young people talked about high school years as ‘the’ time for sexual fun, sexual identity constructions, sexual exploration and sexual freedom. Notably, young people acknowledged that their sexuality constructions are negotiated in a context (a township) that still bear the brunt of a long history of violence, legacies of apartheid and inequalities, economic exclusion, oppression, the dominance of hegemonic masculinities and passive femininities. Throughout the thesis, attention is given to the ways in which boys and girls accommodate, resist and mediate dominant sexuality and expectations against surrounding social, political, cultural and economic context of the township. Implications are suggested in the conclusion of the thesis with respect to sexuality education.