File photo.

Durban - Even where HIV knowledge is high, the benefits of relationships involving young women and “sugar daddies” are seen by the women to outweigh the risks.

So says a University of KwaZulu-Natal professor.

Speaking during a panel discussion last week, Professor Beverley Haddad said these relationships were not seen by the parties involved to pose any risk.

She and Professor Gerald West, along with Bongi Zengele, a PhD candidate, were part of the discussion at the university’s Pietermaritzburg campus.

Haddad said research among adolescent high school pupils in a rural community in 2010-11 showed that girls aged 15 to 19 got HIV at least five to seven years earlier than their male peers.

Although the reason was not fully understood, it was thought to be a complex interplay of biological, socio-behavioural and epidemiological factors.

“A key factor is that young women are engaging in age-disparate sexual relationships.”

These relationships were dangerous because there was a decreased use of condoms, earlier age of sexual debut and often coerced or forced sex. This resulted in HIV vulnerability in young women.

Haddad said that sexual intercourse between younger women and older men led to the “anti-sugar daddy” campaign by the provincial government.

Such relationships took place in rural areas because of lack of access to education and health services, unemployment and wanting economic benefits to meet subsistence needs such as school fees.

There was also pressure from families to gain access to financial resources through marriage.

In urban areas, reasons included material and financial benefits, status among peers and the perception that older men were more caring, less disrespectful and less abusive.

Her proposed possible interventions included an extension of social grants, creative community-level interventions and older peers acting as mentors.

Zengele said that when it came to sugar daddy relationships, among the 15-49 age group, HIV prevalence was 23.3%for women, 13.3% for men.

The Mercury