Virginity testing: managing sexuality in a maturing HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Med Anthropol Q. 2001 Dec;15(4):533-52.

Virginity testing: managing sexuality in a maturing HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Leclerc-Madlala S.

Department of Anthropology, University of Natal.


KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa is currently the site of the world’s fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemic, where it is estimated that between 30 and 40 percent of the adult population is seropositive for HIV. With support from local politicians and members of various government ministries, several self-styled guardians of tradition have emerged to form organizations that advocate and conduct regular virginity testing of girls. Reference to the current HIV/AIDS epidemic is central to calls for greater support of this practice. Drawing on original research among Zulu-speaking people in the periurban communities of Durban, this article examines the sociocultural construction of HIV/AIDS and locates the growing popularity of virginity testing within a gendered meaning-making process consistent with commonly held beliefs that the epidemic is the result of women being sexually “out of control.” With the social impact of AIDS starting to take its toll in the forms of increasing AIDS-related deaths and a growing population of orphans, I argue that virginity testing is an attempt to manage the epidemic by exerting greater control over women and their sexuality. In addition, virginity testing of girls helps to draw attention away from the role of men in the maturing epidemic, consideration of which has been conspicuously absent in the popular discourse on AIDS at all levels of South African society.

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