When Boyfriends are Brought into the HIV Conversation

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Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs has been implementing the Super Go social and behavior change communication program since 2009. Financed by USAID/PEPFAR, it has been implemented since 2014 by the Health Communication Capacity Collaborative (HC3). Through various topics, the program aims to help participants, who range in age between 15 and 24, acquire life skills so that they can make the best decisions at critical moments in their lives.

The program makes the young girls aware of the harmful consequences of multiple sexual partnerships and the dangers of transactional sex and promotes the use of condoms. During the third meeting, the girls learn through role playing to negotiate condom use. The girls are asked to invite their current boyfriends to this meeting to facilitate the role plays on the one hand and, on the other hand, understand the need for consistent condom use.

When the idea surfaced of including the girls’ boyfriends, we were somewhat apprehensive. We thought that the girls would not agree to invite their boyfriends to these meetings for several reasons. There was also a concern that the presence of the boys in the meeting would inhibit the girls and “kill” their participation. Above all, we thought that the boys would not agree to come to gatherings of girls.

In spite of all these apprehensions, we suggested this idea to the non-governmental organizations that were implementing the program. The facilitators were informed and, in the second meeting, when they were starting to get to know each other, they suggested to the girls to invite their boyfriends to the next meeting. When this invitation, which the girls find unprecedented, is announced at meetings, it always elicits from them a strong reaction, provoking gales of laughter. At first, they think it’s a joke, but when the facilitators persist and explain the rationale behind it, they come to realize that it is serious. Some reject the idea from the start; some say that their boyfriends will not accept it and others promise to try. In the end, it often happens that some boyfriends come to participate in the third meeting.

We have found that the presence of the boys, far from putting a damper on participation as we had feared, brings a special atmosphere to the meeting and sparks a lively interest among all the participants. The boys themselves get caught up in the game and learn many things, since their opinion is asked after each role play in which they participate. Even if the approach is not yet systematic and generalized, we think that this initiative could make a valuable contribution to SBCC to combat HIV among young people. This experience could lead to a new program for young couples.

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