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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Traditional values of virginity and sexual behaviour in rural Ethiopian youth: results from a cross-sectional study

Mitike Molla12*, Yemane Berhane23 and Bernt Lindtjørn1

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for International Health, University of Bergen, Armauer Hansen Building, 5021, Bergen, Norway

2 School of Public Health, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

3 Addis Continental Institute of Public Health, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:9  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-9

Published: 9 January 2008

Abstract

Background

Delaying sexual initiation has been promoted as one of the methods of decreasing risks of HIV among young people. In traditional countries, such as Ethiopia, retaining virginity until marriage is the norm. However, no one has examined the impact of this traditional norm on sexual behaviour and risk of HIV in marriage. This study examined the effect of virginity norm on having sex before marriage and sexual behaviour after marriage among rural Ethiopian youth.

Methods

We did a cross-sectional survey in 9 rural and 1 urban area using a probabilistic sample of 3,743 youth, 15–24 years of age. Univariate analysis was used to assess associations between virginity norm and gender stratified by area, and between sexual behaviour and marital status. We applied Kaplan-Meier and Cox regression analysis to estimate age at sexual debut and assessed the predictors of premarital sex among the never-married using SPSS.

Results

We found that maintaining virginity is still a way of securing marriage for girls, especially in rural areas; the odds of belief and intention to marry a virgin among boys was 3–4 times higher among rural young males. As age increased, the likelihood of remaining a virgin decreased. There was no significant difference between married and unmarried young people in terms of number of partners and visiting commercial sex workers. Married men were twice more likely to have multiple sexual partners than their female counterparts. A Cox regression show that those who did not believe in traditional values of preserving virginity (adjusted hazard ratio [AHR] = 2.91 [1.92–4.40]), alcohol drinkers (AHR = 2.91 [1.97–4.29]), Khat chewers (AHR = 2.36 [1.45–3.85]), literates (AHR = 18.01 [4.34–74.42]), and the older age group (AHR = 1.85 [1.19–2.91]) were more likely to have premarital sex than their counterparts.

Conclusion

Although virginity norms help delay age at sexual debut among rural Ethiopian youth, and thus reduces vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections and HIV infection, vulnerability among females may increase after marriage due to unprotected multiple risky sexual behaviours by spouses. The use of preventive services, such as VCT before marriage and condom use in marriage should be part of the HIV/AIDS prevention and control strategies.