Social Networks and Sexual Practices

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Addis Ababa University


This study examines adolescent social networks and sexual practices (and how they differ among males and females of different ages) among ninth-grade students in two high schools in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Social exchange theory and group socialization theory guide the study. Other theories that the study utilizes are the theory of homophily, balance theory, the theory of self-interest, and the theory of early sexual practices. Up to now, there has been no systematic research in Ethiopia or the rest of Africa on the relationship between adolescent social networks and sexual practices. Mixed-methods research guides the study, which consists of two parts. Study A generated data from a 264-item survey of 167 respondents, to which parametric and nonparametric statistics (using a consistent alpha of .05) are applied. Study B used 10 critical cases to generate qualitative data. Critical cases are study participants selected based on their capacity to provide reliable data of interest. UCINET 6.0 was used to draw social network diagrams, and qualitative data were transcribed and subjected to content analysis. Friendship, immediate family, extended family neighborhood, and religious networks are key components of social network analysis. Friendship and family networks are two priority networks among adolescents. The family network is the most stable type and the friendship network is the most popular. The friendship network plays two important functions: information sharing and problem solving. Adolescents’ like having school friends who are of the same gender, and out-of-school friends of the opposite gender. Adolescent friendship networks are the primary means for finding sexual partners. Peer influence and personal curiosity are the primary factors related to adolescent sexual debuts. Male adolescents equate sexual practices with self-actualization and adventure, while female adolescents equate sexual practices with love and emotional attachment.The adolescents’ own homes and their friends’ houses are the most popular settings for first engaging in sexual activity. Female survey respondents reported having more than one boyfriend, whereas male adolescents had a single girlfriend. The hypothesized associations between adolescent-parent communication and age of sexual debut were not found to be significant. The hypothesized relationships between social network variables and sexual practices were significant, as were correlations between ages at which the respondents first watched live sex and when they first masturbated. These findings concerning adolescents’ relationships and reproductive health risk factors give us a better understanding of the role of social networks in adolescent health and sexual activity. Understanding adolescents’ social networks is particularly important in light of the looming problem of HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia and Africa. These findings are also important for social work and social development interventions



Social Work