Sex, HIV and taboo: Overcoming HIV in conservative settings

Sex, HIV and taboo: Overcoming HIV in conservative settings

In our culture, when someone wants to go and buy condoms, they feel they can’t. Even when you go to shops and they have condoms, it is not easy to get them.”
– Maryam, a 22-year old from Zanzibar


HIV, sex and sexuality continue to remain social and cultural taboos in many regions of the world. In Zanzibar, Tanzania, the HIV epidemic is concentrated among young people, including those from key populations (in particular men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, and sex workers). The consequences of existing social and cultural taboos are wide-ranging. Socio-cultural factors can increase HIV transmission by creating barriers to access prevention methods and information. Studies show that social taboos repress awareness and prevention of HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).  

Comprehensive sex education (CSE) plays a critical role to ensure people are well equipped to make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). In Zanzibar, comprehensive knowledge about HIV is low, particularly among youth – less than half of young people have adequate knowledge about HIV transmission and prevention. This shows that sexual education programmes for young people, in and out of school, is needed.

Combination prevention efforts that include condoms play a decisive role in HIV prevention efforts by encouraging safer sexual behaviour and reducing HIV infection rates. In recent years, Tanzania has intensified its efforts to implement a national condom programme to specifically reach youth. However, in Zanzibar, cultural attitudes prevent condoms from being readily available, and reports show that condom promotion is low.

In today’s #IASYouthVoices, Maryam shares her story as a young woman living in Zanzibar.  Maryam is HIV-negative and explains how access to HIV prevention methods, especially condoms, and information about SRHR is an on-going struggle in Zanzibar.



Youth Voices