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SOUTH AFRICA (Generalia)



IndexAfrica→ South Africa


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A historical analysis was offered by (Erlank, 2003)[1].


In a black township near Pretoria, of 105 pre-marital mothers it was established that 20 per cent had engaged in sexual relationships before “puberty”; of these 105, 90% were forbidden to go out alone with boys, 82% were forbidden to go out alone in the evenings, 89% were forbidden to receive boys at home, and 51% were forbidden to go out in a group, all before puberty (Rip and Schmidt, 1977:p21)[2]. Attitudes on premarital sexuality were quite evenly divided. In one study (Du Toit, 1987)[3], the youngest age of coitarche was nine, and about two in three black schoolgirls had had coitus by age 15. In a study among rural Transkei adolescents (Buga et al., 1996)[4], boys initiated sexual activity at an earlier age than girls (13.43 vs 14.86 years, p=0.0000). To put these figures in perspective, menarche and semenarche occurred at 13.90 +/- 1.23 and 15.12 +/- 1.58 years. In a later survey among female university students (Buga, 1998)[5], subjects indicated having initiated sexual activity [intercourse] at a mean age of 17.27 +/- 2.18 years. A 1999 survey in South Africa among 796 adolescent girls in KwaZulu Natal, first sexual intercourse took place at a mean age of 16 (Manzini, 2001)[6]. Among 1063 sixth-grade students (average age: 13.6 years), 17% initiated sexual intercourse during the previous year (Klepp et al., 1997)[7]. According to a recent study[8], girls were generally thought to have sex at an earlier age than boys, although the estimated average age for them was only slightly lower than for boys (15.3 years for girls, compared to 15.7 years for boys). The lowest age was 7; 1% had their “first sexual encounter” under age 10, which paralleled expectations. However, a considerable expectation for sexarche at ages 11-12 (11% boys, 17% girls) was not met with indications about personal pasts (only 2% indicated sexarche in both categories). Only 1% indicated receiving information about “sexual health issues” from a “traditional practitioner”.

Girls in Johannesburg had only minimal sex education from their mother at menarche (Hellmann, 1935)[9]. This may not have changed much, as cited by Morrell[10]:


“There is little talk about sex between parents and children - and children fear beatings if they admit to being sexually active (Unicef/NPPCHN, 1997, 27)[[11]]. There is very little communication between parents and children. Mothers assume that when girls have boyfriends, they will be engaging in sex and send them to the clinic for contraception. But there is no talking about this (Unicef/NPPHCN, 1997, 74)”.


Chastity and modesty would be the highlights of Hindu children’s moral upbringing in South Africa (Kuper, 1960:p155-6)[12].

Pre-initiation sex and marriage are more punished than premarital sex and marriage (Jules-Rosette, 1980)[13]. In the past, “sex play without penetration (ukumetfha) was an established part of the relations between girls and boys, and the custom of regularly examining girls for virginity secured a measure of parental control. The latter custom has fallen into disuse, however, as has the custom of including an additional beast among the marriage cattle in respect of a bride whose virginity was intact” (Wilson, 1952:p95)[14]. In the Durban area, “The testing of girls generally involve[d] examination of the vagina by a teacher while the girl lies on the ground. A virginity test for boys involve[d] looking for lines at the back of the knees, inspecting the foreskin (which should be hard), and testing whether boys can urinate over a wire suspended 1 m above the ground. Testing occur[ed] in a public, ceremonial setting, with certificate[d] subsequently awarded to virgins by the All Africa Cultural Organization”[15]. Virginity testing is called ukuhlola, the normal procedure of which would be for teens to lie down on mats while a female examiner checks to see if their hymens are intact. Thornton (2002:p16)[16]:


“[…] there are specific institutions and places where sexual discourse is required and elaborated. In KwaZulu-Natal, the recent renaissance of formal virginity testing by older women, usually traditional healers, young girls gather to be examined by specialist who determine whether they are virgins. Wearing short traditional skirts only, they are led one by one to a healer who performs a vaginal inspection to ascertain whether the hymen is intact. If it is, the girl is given a formal certificate, signed by the chief and the tester, which states that she has undergone the test and was determined to be a virgin. Girls who submit to this test are also advised about sexuality during the examination. One tester, the traditional healer Makhosi Sibuko, also advises girls how to place their boyfriend’s penis between their thighs, rather than in their vaginas during pre-marital sex. Girls are also inspected for virginity during the vhusha initiation ceremony in Venda, Limpopo province, during which they are also taught elements of sexuality and sexual performance (Jeanerat 1997: 48)[[17]]. Boys initiation rituals in many parts of South are also instances where sexual knowledge is given and demonstrated by elders to juniors. This knowledge is, in all cases, considered to be secret, although it is an open secret”.


In contemporary adolescent sexual learning, an important role is reserved for mass media, especially TV and magazines, although friends also constituted a significant source of information[18].

Henderson (1994)[19], drawing from informal colloquia with Cape Town adolescents, found that parents generally do not welcome other-sex visits or stays at home, and sexual discussions with parents are avoided as a form of “respect”. Nevertheless, “[g]irls are sexually active, often from the age of thirteen” (p38).


Some data on childhood sexual experiences are collected in Gevisser and Cameron’s Defiant Desire[20] on gay and lesbian lives in South Africa.


A 1992 survey of 7,000 adolescents found that 17 percent had engaged in sexual intercourse, with a median age of 15 years at first intercourse (Cooper et al. 1994)[21]. According to a study of first intercourse and contraceptive experiences of 1,737 black South Africans conducted during their first year in a university (Nicholas, 1994)[22], male respondents’ mean age at first intercourse was 15.5 years and their partners’ age was 14.5 years old.

Hurwitz (1997)[23] argued that “[t]here is no literature or data pertaining to autoerotic behavior and patterns in South African children, adolescents, or adults”.

Focusing on adolescent black children and teenagers, Preston-Whyte and Zondi found that both boys and girls admitted experiencing sex before their 12th or 13th year[24]. Some had experienced penetration before they reached physical maturity. By age 13, most had been sexually active, if not regularly, then at least on a number of occasions. Full penetration was the rule.

The following findings regarding intrafamilial communication about sex in South Africa were obtained in 1990 from 1,902 black first-year students at a South African university (Nicholas 1991)[25]. Thirty-eight percent of respondents indicated that they had received no sex information from their mothers; 8.2 percent of females and only 3.8 percent of males indicated that they received much information from mothers. As expected, 65.5 percent of respondents indicated that fathers had given no sex information; 4.5 percent, 3.1 percent of males and 1.4 percent of females, reported their fathers provided much sex information.

Sixty-two percent of respondents indicated that they received no sex information at primary school, whereas only 10.9 percent indicated that they received no sex information at high school. Guidance teachers seem to provide much of the sex information at school, with 30.3 percent of respondents indicating that they received much information from guidance teachers.


Late 19th century South-African boarding school experienced the problems with this type of scholastic system as anywhere. “Initiation into the “under-life” of the reformatory could be through homosexual rape, while younger boys were soon drafted into service, sexual and otherwise, for older boys. Masturbation and homosexuality were common, while fagging, a common boarding school phenomenon, also appears to have been in practice […]” (Chisholm, 1986:p490)[26].

Despite the “repressive puritan stance towards adolescent sexuality” that came with the advent of Bantu Education in 1953, “[f]ormer primary school pupils claimed that their sexual biographies began fairly early in their lives. ‘Many primary school boys had sex’, I was told. ‘They were above thirteen and had already been circumcised. The girls agreed. They also enjoyed sex’ ” (Niehaus)[27].



[Additional refs: Swart-Kruger and Richter (1997)[28]; CRLP (2001) Women of the World: Laws and Policies Affecting Their Reproductive Lives: Anglophone Africa. Progress Report, p90-112]





After the seclusion of a Kafir girl at puberty she is allowed to cohabit with anyone during the festivals that follow[29]; Kafir boys after being circumcised may have connection with any unmarried females they can persuade[30]. Kidd’s (1906)[31] work on “Kafir” (Pondo) childhood appears void of sex.



Featured: Zulu, Basuto, Tswana, Swasi, Bovale, Pedi, Thonga, Lemba, Xhosa, Xesibe, Tshidi Barolong, Venda, Fingo, Lobedu, Pondo, Zanzibaris; ®!Xo




Further reading (South Africa):


n      Dijk, D. van (May, 2002) “Hulle Kan Nie Hulle Hormone Intoom Hou Nie”: A study on gender, adolescents and sexual behaviour in relation to HIV in South Africa. MA Thesis Development Studies, Centre for International Development Issues Nijmegen, Catholic University Nijmegen, The Netherlands []

n      Du Plessis, I. (2002) The Body in Fiction: Afrikaner Nationalism and Popular Children’s Literature in the 1940s. On The Subject of Sex Seminar Series, Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (Wiser), University of Witwatersrand []

n      Ford, C. J. (2003) Infant rape and the deconstruction of predatory and impulsive masculinity. 4th Conference of the International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society (IASSCS) ‘Sex and Secrecy’

n      Goldman, S. (2003) White Boyhood under Apartheid: The experience of being looked after by a Black nanny. Doctoral Thesis, submitted for the degree Doctor of Philosophy and Literature in the Department of Psychology, University of Pretoria []

n      Henderson, Jill (2005) Child sexual abuse research in South Africa. International Society for Theoretical Psychology (ISTP) Conference, 20 to 24 June 2005, Cape Town

n      Leclerc-Madlala, Suzanne (2000) Virginity testing for AIDS prevention in South Africa: Consolidating the gendered epidemic. Paper presented at the American Anthropological Conference

n      Leclerc-Madlala, Suzanne (2001) Virginity testing: Managing sexuality in a maturing HIV/AIDS epidemic. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 15(4), 533-552

n      Leclerc-Madlala, Suzanne (2003) Protecting girlhood? Virginity testing in the era of AIDS –, Agenda [South Africa] Issue # 56, ‘Gendering childhood’

n      Marcus, Carin (2002) The Cultural Context of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. MA thesis, Rand Afrikaans University []

n      Mitchell, C., Walsh, S. & Larkin, J. (2004) Visualizing the politics of innocence in the age of AIDS, Sex Educ 3,2:159-72

n      Smith, Ch. (2003) The virgin rape myth - a media creation or a clash between myth and a lack of HIV treatment?4th Conference of the International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society (IASSCS) ‘Sex and Secrecy’

n        Liknaitzky, I. (1933) A case of masturbation in a child, SA Med J 7:85-6. [Reports (indignantly) that a 9-year-old girl, at Johannesburg, was found masturbating in bed, by her mother, and was severely beaten. The girl had been told by a doctor that if she continued the habit she would go mad and her fingers would fall off. She was then excluded from her school and certified as feeble-minded by two doctors who also tried to have her committed to an institution, on the grounds of masturbation. The author and Dr Alice Cox examined the girl and found her of normal intelligence. Counselling was given to the girl and her mother, and the girl was admitted to another school.]

n      Hallman, k. (2004) Socioeconomic Disadvantage and Unsafe Sexual Behaviors Among Young Women and Men in South Africa. The Population Council, Inc., 18 June 2004, p13-5 []

n      Rutenberg, N. et al. (March 2001) Transitions to Adulthood in the Context of AIDS in South Africa: Report of Wave I. []

n      Transitions to Adulthood in the Context of AIDS in South Africa: Results from Wave II, Community Survey. July, 2004 []

n      Smyth, B. (2000) The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Southern Africa. ECPAT International, p39-51 [fulltext at]

n      Scared at School: Sexual Violence Against Girls in South African Schools. New York · Washington · London · Brussels: Human Rights Watch, 2001 [ et seq.]

n      Grundlingh, L. (2002) Neither Health nor Education? An Historical Analysis of HIV/AIDS Education in South Africa, 1980s-1990s. Development Studies Seminar, RAU []


n      Virginity test for boys on cards, News2430/01/2002 [,,2-1659_1137520,00.html]

n      Virginity tests to fight Aids? News2414/08/2002 [,,2-7-659_1241837,00.html]

n      Breaking Silence: Gendered and Sexual Identities and HIV/AIDS and Education, UNICEF 2003 []




Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Jun 2005


[1] Erlank, N. (2003) “The problem of SEX”: Christian grapplings with sex education for Africans in South Africa, 1910-1950. 4th Conference of the International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society (IASSCS) ‘Sex and Secrecy’

[2] Rip, C. M. & Schmidt, J. J. (1977) Black Pre-Marital Illegitimacy in Pretoria. Pretoria: South African Human Sciences Research Council. Research Report 100

[3] Du Toit, B. M. (1987) Menarche and sexuality among a sample of Black South African schoolgirls, Soc Sci & Med 24,7:561-71

[4] Buga, G. A., Amoko, D. H. & Ncayiyana, D. J. (1996) Sexual behaviour, contraceptive practice and reproductive health among school adolescents in rural Transkei, South Afr Med J 86(5):523-7

[5] Buga, G. A. (1998) Cervical cancer awareness and risk factors among female university students, East Afr Med J 75,7:411-6

[6] Manzini, N. (2001) Sexual initiation and childbearing among adolescent girls in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, Reprod Health Matters 9,17:44-52

[7] Klepp, K. I., Ndeki, S. S., Leshabari, M. T., Hannan, P. J. & Lyimo, B. A. (1997) AIDS education in Tanzania: promoting risk reduction among primary school children, Am J Public Health 87,12:1931-6

[8] Community Agency for Social Enquiry (CASE, South Africa) (2001) Youth 2000 Report: A Study of Youth in South Africa. Ch.8 at, Oct. 24, 2002

[9] Hellmann, E. (1935) Native life in a Johannesburg slum yard, Africa 8,1:34-61

[10] Morrell, R. (2001) Silence, Sexuality and HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Paper for the International Conference Gender, Sexuality and HIV/AIDS: Research and Intervention in Africa, University of Copenhagen, April 23-24

[11] NPPHCN/UNICEF, Youth Speak Out … A Study on Youth Sexuality (Braamfontein, c1997)

[12] Kuper, H. (1960) Indian People in Natal. Natal: Natal University Press

[13] Jules-Rosette, B. (1980) Changing aspects of women’s initiation in Southern Africa: an exploratory study, Can J Afric Stud 13,3:389-405

[14] Wilson, M. (1952) Social Structure. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter. This would be true for the Xhosha and Mfengu.

[15] Watts, R. (1999) The challenge of the virginity campaigns, AIDS Anal Afr 9,4:9-10

[16] Thornton, R. (2002) Flows of ‘sexual substance’ and representation of the body in South Africa. On The Subject of Sex Seminar Series, Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (Wiser), University of Witwatersrand

[17] Jeannerat, C. (1997) An Anthropology of Listening: A Study of Discourses on Tradition, Rituals, and the Situation of Women in Tshiendeuli, Venda, in the Early 1990s. MA Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

[18] Kaya, H. & Mabetoa, Ph. (1997) Knowledge and Attitudes towards Sexuality among Black Youth in South Africa, Educ & Soc 15,1:81-7

[19] Henderson, P. (1994) Silence, sex and Authority: the contradictions of young girls’ sexuality in New Crossroads, Cape Town, VENA J 6,2:33-9

[20] Gevisser, M. & Cameron, E. (Eds., 1994) Defiant Desires. Johannesburg: Ravan Press. See especially Zackie Achmat’s My Childhood as an Adult Molester (p325-41). Other clues to South African male homosexual development are found in Isaacs, G. & McKendrick, B. (1992) Male Homosexuality in South Africa. Cape Town: Oxford University Press

[21] [?]

[22] [?]

[23] Hurwitz, M. B. (1997) South Africa: another perspective, in Francoeur, R. T. (Ed.) The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. New York: Continuum. Quoted from the online edition

[24] Preston-Whyte, E. & Zondi, M. (1991) Adolescent Sexuality and Its Implications for Teenage Pregnancy and AIDS, South Africa’s Continuing Med Educ Monthly 9,11:1389-94

[25] See Nicholas, L. J. (1993) A Profile of 1,500 UWC First Year Students: Career Interest, Guidance Experiences, Knowledge and Attitudes towards AIDS and Sexuality and Religiosity. Unpublished report: Centre of Student Counselling, University of the Western Cape; Nicholas, L. J. & Daniels, P. S. (1997) South Africa, in Francoeur, R. T. (Ed.) The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. New York: Continuum, Vol. 3. Quoted from the online edition

[26]Chisholm, L. (1986) The Pedagogy of Porter: The Origins of the Reformatory in the Cape Colony, 1882-1910, J Afr Hist 27,3:481-95

[27] Niehaus, I. (2000) Towards a Dubious Liberation: Masculinity, Sexuality and Power in South African Lowveld Schools, 1953-1999, J Southern African Studies 26,3:387-407, at p391

[28] Swart-Kruger, J. & Richter, L.M. (1997) AIDS-related knowledge, attitudes and behaviour among South African youth: reflections on power, sexuality and the autonomous self, Soc Sci & Med 45,6:957-66

[29] MacDonald, J. (189[1]) Manners, Customs, Superstitions, and Religions of South African Tribes, J Anthropol Instit Great Britain & Ireland 20:113-40. [Macdonald, however, writes that actual sexual intercourse is prohibited]

[30] Maclean, J. (1858) A Compendium of Kafir Laws and Customs. Mount Coke, p98, 101[orig. footnote]

[31] Kidd, D. (1906) Savage Childhood. London: Adam & Charles Black