Romantic relationships and sexual activities of the first generation of youth living with HIV since birth

AIDS Care. 2011 Apr;23(4):393-400. doi: 10.1080/09540121.2010.516332.


HIV-infected children, now maturing into adolescence and adulthood, must cope not only with adolescent developmental issues, but also with a chronic, socially stigmatised and sexually transmittable illness. Little research on this first generation of survivors has focused on romantic involvement and sexuality. This study, which employs a mixed-method embedded strategy (qualitative supported by quantitative), describes the perspectives of youth living with HIV since birth concerning: (1) romantic involvement and sexuality; and (2) risk management including the risk of HIV transmission and partner serostatus disclosure. Eighteen adolescents aged 13-22 from Montreal, Canada, participated in individual semi-structured interviews and completed self-report questionnaires. Most youths participated in non-penetrative sexual activities. Ten participants reported having had vaginal and three anal intercourses, at an average age of 14 for girls and 15 for boys. All sexually active youth reported having used a condom at least once. Of those who reported that their first sexual relationship was protected, over half had taken risks in subsequent relationships (e.g., unprotected sex, multiple partners, etc.). Interviews conducted with sexually inactive youths illustrate the interrelatedness of romantic involvement, sexual initiation and potential serostatus disclosure. Involvement in a sexual relationship would not be conceivable unless the partner was informed of their serostatus. For sexually active participants, risk management implies HIV transmission and partner disclosure. These youths have emotional issues regarding disclosure in romantic relationships and few risked potential rejection by disclosing. Condom use acts as a reminder of the infection and a barrier to intimacy. The narratives illustrate how risk perception changes and becomes relative with time and experience, especially when the viral load is undetectable and when past experience has convinced the adolescent that his/her partner might not become infected. Findings reinforce the need to prioritise sexual health issues for young people with perinatally acquired HIV.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Canada
  • Condoms / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / psychology
  • HIV Infections / transmission*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Risk-Taking
  • Safe Sex / psychology
  • Self Disclosure
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Sexual Partners / psychology*
  • Young Adult