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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10 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.

    • herndono20 says:

      I agree with Ben’s point on looking into the percentage of people that know their HIV status. I also believe that there would definitely be some psychological effects from the rampant fear of HIV throughout SSA, but could possibly be avoided by an increased awareness of personal HIV status and the percentage of those infected in certain regions. However, because of the deadly effects of HIV/AIDS I also don’t know if that is necessarily a bad thing unless resources are being spent on the prevention of HIV in an area where it isn’t necessarily a major issue. I would be interested in seeing the fertility rates, and sexual activity levels in prominent HIV regions versus those where it is less of an issue. I would also be interested in knowing how expensive it would be to implement HIV testing in preexisting medical centers to relieve some of the fear from those that aren’t HIV positive.

  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.

  7. pezzij19 says:

    To reiterate the Prof’s first comment, a fear of unprotected sex and contracting HIVs isn’t necessarily a bad thing even if some of the facts leading to that fear are wrong. (Not that we should be feeding people lies) But considering Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is increasing rapidly and only some of the countries in the region can keep up with development, a decrease in fertility rate could by all means be a good thing. If it goes hand in hand with a decrease in HIV cases, even better. But the fact that many in HIV stricken communities think it’s an inevitable infliction, that is concerning and should change.

  8. Chris DuPont says:

    I think if people in countries where HIV is a major problem begin to learn how difficult it actually is to contract the deadly disease, then they will start to become more reckless and have more unprotected sex, leading to an increase in diagnoses. However, the people in these HIV stricken regions should not live in constant fear that they are essentially guaranteed to contract the disease based on their geographic location. I think the people in these countries need to continue to take extreme caution when it comes to sex to help someday eradicate HIV.

  9. aidanchandless says:

    One major issue leading to the epidemic levels of HIV/AIDS in many African countries is the lack of sexual health education. Many studies have shown that the lack of HIV knowledge among young Africans leads to higher participation in risky sexual behaviors. The introduction of sexual health classes in schools would provide students with the knowledge they need to avoid the risky sexual behaviors that make them more likely to contract HIV. In addition to this, it would be beneficial for the the governments of the African countries to spread information on the facts of HIV/AIDS and how it is transmitted. This help to provide Africans who are not in school with much needed HIV knowledge.

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