Talking about sex in pregnancy: reflections from the field in urban South Africa

Cult Health Sex. 2018 Nov;20(11):1157-1170. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2017.1420233. Epub 2018 Jan 30.


Qualitative research with close engagement in the field allows researchers and participants to build relationships and establish trust, enabling researchers to collect meaningful and sensitive information. Drawing on findings from a study conducted in an urban setting in South Africa, we discuss the challenges faced when interviewing pregnant women with HIV infection, retaining them in the study, and extending the study to include their partners. We discuss the dynamics of pregnancy and draw lessons from interviews concerned with personal, sensitive issues. The study on which we draw was conducted in Johannesburg, South Africa, and was nested in a larger prospective cohort study of women and their infants, which in turn was part of a case control study. Sensitive topics are difficult and complex, but to ignore these and stay in safe territory is to ignore some of the most pressing questions of our time. It is important that those who conduct interviews are well trained and able to engage empathetically with participants, and that some form of counselling is available for both participants and researchers.

Keywords: HIV; South Africa; qualitative research; reflections; vulnerable groups.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • HIV Infections
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnant Women*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Researcher-Subject Relations*
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • South Africa
  • Vulnerable Populations*