The Effect of HIV Fear on Sexual Behaviors

Marshall Hespe, Sabin Nshimyumukiza

Around the world, people believe that it is very easy to contract HIV. A median person believes that a one-time unprotected sex with an HIV-positive person would result in contracting the virus for sure. However, research shows that it is not that easy to catch HIV, with the transmission rate about 0.1% per sex act, or 10% per year. This study shows there is a concerning incongruity between the presence and risk of HIV and the understanding of its fatality. Research is being conducted and needs to be further studied to see how the perceived risk of HIV is changing sexual practice and whether it is actually helping or hurting Africa.

HIV is concentrated in different regions of Africa, and perceived risk and sexual behavior has different risks and consequences throughout Africa. In areas of high prevalence, people are unfortunately view themselves as unable to avoid the disease, while people in lower risk areas are taking more considerate precautions  and perhaps over protecting themselves. The study begins to reveal how many consequences can arise from the psychological issues of HIV on and among a population.

As Africa continues to face economic and social issues, HIV can be quickly delineated as a simple health issue, but studies show the perceived risk of HIV is having detrimental and even regressive effects on the sexual practices of Africans. More care and research have to maintained if Africa wants to successfully control HIV among its populations, and more forethought has to be ascribed to the potentially negative effects of perceived risk.

Marshall Hespe, Sabin Nshimyumukiza

Kerwin, Jason, Scared Straight or Scared to Death? The Effect of Risk Beliefs on Risky Behaviors (February 9, 2018). Available at SSRN: SSRN or here

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6 Responses to The Effect of HIV Fear on Sexual Behaviors

  1. the prof says:

    Isn’t excessive fear of unprotected sex a good thing? In addition, the average may not reflect the risk for an individual, since it’s affected by health – particularly co-infection with other STDs.

  2. rietanob18 says:

    Interesting blog post on a major global issue — particularly for SSA. As expected, people have negative misconceptions about getting HIV and about how easily the disease is transmitted. These fears are, as stated, transforming the sexual behavior of many people, and thus allowing the disease to further impact even those who do not host it directly. Professor Smitka mentions an interesting point though — is it not better for people to be worried about having unprotected sex? This fear can help further prevent the spread of disease. I think it would also be interesting to look into writing on the fact that a number of people do not know their HIV status; they don’t know whether or not they have the disease. This lack of knowledge could pose major issues for the spread of HIV. One wonders: what is being done to help people gain clarity on their HIV status? This question is particularly important for those who are impoverished and might struggle to afford a trip to the doctor.

  3. ahny19 says:

    It’s interesting to consider the presumably adverse consequences of “excess” protection and fear of contracting HIV particularly in the context of the disease’s prevalence in Africa. Although it may seem as if individuals inflate the likelihood of contracting HIV from an overestimation of the disease’s transmission rate, I’m curious to learn how this perceived risk may have contributed to lower fertility rates and thus generated a positive effect. Also, to echo Professor Smitka and rietanob’s comment, if individuals living in areas where HIV is pervasive consider themselves unable to avoid the disease, shouldn’t there arguably be increased concern of HIV control and prevention opposed to the counter?

  4. reamest18 says:

    Though this research may find statistically significant data regarding transmission, it would be reckless to think that HIV is not a major issue facing the people in Africa and other infected areas. As our textbook talks about in depth, HIV is a dangerous reality facing certain populations and should be feared. There are also underlying truths, though tough to accept, that are playing a role in HIV transmission. According to, 4% of new HIV infections in Eastern and Southern Africa in 2014 were amongst sex workers. Another 2% came from drug use.

  5. John Gaugin-Rosenthal says:

    The HIV/AIDS epidemic is positively correlated with economic growth. While the temporary solution is to internationally finance preventative measures through strategic pricing, establishing competitive markets in the production of medical solutions and other protective devices, and bringing in additional infrastructure investment, the long-term solution lies in the ability of the continent to grow its economy and, with it, GDP per capita, disposable income, human capital levels, and labor productivity. Rather than perpetually support a nation’s economic growth and development, it is essential that this support only serves as a temporary crutch to jumpstart economic independence/self-sufficiency. I believe that the best crutch (most cost-effective and probably the most widely supported) to this particular issue is to establish subsidized, competitive, private markets for solutions, but that the ultimate solution is to invest in Africa’s economic growth.

  6. the prof says:

    Who does HIV affect the most? If it’s not the wealthy, then growth won’t help much. Plus the data may suggest there is a negative relationship with income, but that can merely mean very high when poor, and high when not.

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