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Open Access Research article

“Dying a hero”: parents’ and young people’s discourses on concurrent sexual partnerships in rural Tanzania

Joyce Wamoyi1* and Daniel Wight2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health, National Institute for Medical Research, P.O Box 1462, Mwanza, Tanzania

2 Medical Research Council/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, 200 Renfield St, Glasgow G2 3QB, UK

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:742  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-742

Published: 22 July 2014



Concurrent sexual partnerships (CSPs) have been speculated to drive the HIV pandemic in many sub-Saharan African countries. We have limited understanding of how people think and talk about CSPs, how beliefs are transmitted across generations, and how this might affect the practice. This paper explores these issues to understand how CSPs are perpetuated and help identify opportunities for interventions to modify them.


The study employed an ethnographic research design involving: participant observation in 10 households, 60 in-depth interviews (IDIs), and nine participatory focus group discussions (FGDs). Participants were young people aged 14-24 and parents/carers of young people within this age group. The 60 IDIs were conducted with: 17 fathers, 13 mothers, 13 young men and 17 young women (six of whom had had unplanned pregnancies and 11 had no children). The nine FGDs were conducted with groups of: fathers (2), mothers (2), young women (2), and young men (3). A discourse analysis was carried out with all the transcripts. Data were analysed with the aid of NVIVO 8 software.


Six distinct discourses were identified from the way participants talked about CSPs and the norms driving the practice: 1) predatory masculine sexuality; 2) masculine respectability; 3) feminine respectability; 4) empowered modern women; 5) traditional health beliefs; 6) public health. Discourses legitimating CSPs were drawn on and reproduced primarily by young people and the media and only indirectly by parents. Discourses discouraging CSPs were used primarily by parents, religious leaders and learning institutions and only indirectly by young people themselves.


Better knowledge of the discourses through which young people CSPs, and how these discourses are transmitted across generations, might help develop “culturally compelling” interventions that modify these discourses to enhance sexual health.

Concurrent sexual partnerships; Discourses; Tanzania; HIV/AIDS; Young people