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Journal Article


Matswetu VS, Bhana D. Sage open 2018; 8(2): e2158244018779107.


(Copyright © 2018, SAGE Publishing)






Given the significance of gender and cultural norms in producing meanings about sexuality, we address the ways in which rural adolescents in Zimbabwe, aged between 16 and 19 years old, give meaning to virginity and the social processes through which it is produced. We are interested in the ways in which cultural norms are produced and ways in which sexual double standards operate in producing sexuality and girls' subordination. We argue that while adolescents are not simply dupes of cultural norms, they actively invest in and use virginity as a marker of status. Integral to adolescent experience of and ideals around virginity, there is a significant ambivalence where girls' virginity is expected, whereas the same is unexpected for young adolescent men. We show that conformity with, rather than resistance to, cultural norms may contradictorily and simultaneously subordinate and empower young women. Choosing to maintain virginity can be seen as an autonomous decision especially when girls position educational aspirations as key to virginity status in order to gain some control over their lives. However, this choice might not simply be about autonomy but occurs in a cultural context where patriarchal values had already made it an obligation. Dominant discourses around virginity and cultural norms stand in direct contradiction to adolescent sexual well-being, albeit with contradictions. Attention to cultural processes through which relations of power are manifest is important in safeguarding young people's sexual health especially in the context of HIV.

Language: en


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