Having multiple sexual partners, particularly when relationships overlap in time, is a major driver of the HIV epidemic. Overlapping, or concurrent, relationships increase the number of people who are connected in a “sexual network,” and HIV spreads more quickly the larger the sexual network. Although young people report having multiple sexual partners, few HIV prevention programs for youth tackle this topic.
FHI 360, on behalf of USAID’s Interagency Youth Working Group, recently helped address this gap with a new publication, Promoting Partner Reduction: Helping Young People Understand and Avoid HIV Risks from Multiple Partnerships. The late Dr. Doug Kirby of ETR Associates was a major contributor.
The publication contains a set of 17 activities designed to help young people:
- Learn why HIV spreads at different rates in monogamous, sequential and concurrent sexual partnerships
- Analyze the reasons why young people engage in multiple partnerships
- Develop the intention to reduce their number of sexual partners
- Practice skills to refuse engaging with concurrent partners
- Examine the role that gender norms play in encouraging people to have multiple partners
Promoting Partner Reduction goes beyond simply telling young people to avoid multiple partners to protect themselves from HIV. It provides a forum for participants to discuss complex topics such as transactional sex, cross-generational sex, gender and cultural norms. It also promotes behavior change through role plays, icebreakers, storytelling and other engaging activities. Its participatory approach is designed to motivate young people to change their high-risk behaviors.
FHI 360’s youth team field-tested the activities among young people in Botswana, Kenya and the United States, and the document was recently piloted by programs in South Africa and Swaziland. One facilitator said, “When we did the session on sexual networks, the room was quiet! You could see it on their faces: some of them had multiple partners, and now they understood there was reason to be concerned. Someone even came up to me after and said he wanted to go get an (HIV) test to be safe, which is great.”