Why are women more at risk of HIV? 


Choma, did you know that young women have 3 times more the rate of HIV than young men? Did you also know that women aged between 15 and 24 have a higher rate of HIV than any other group in South Africa? From these facts we can see that women are more at risk of HIV – but why is that? What makes young women more vulnerable than young men? 

Here are a few reasons: 

Transactional sex 

Transactional sex means being in a relationship or having sex with someone simply motivated by economic or material gain. Some women engage in this out of choice and some women because they feel like they don’t have another choice (they might be unemployed or living in poverty). In many of these instances, the man who provides the women with money has the power to decide if the sex will be safe or not. Because he is usually much older and quite likely to be in another relationship (or a few other relationships), he puts the young woman at risk of contracting HIV every time he has sex with her and others.


South Africa has one of the highest rates of rape in the world. A woman living in South Africa has a 40% chance of being raped in her lifetime. This is a reality many young women in particular have to face and it’s senseless and heartbreaking. Rape puts women more at risk because it’s very likely that the perpetrator doesn’t use a condom. If the sex is forced and violent, then this could cause tears in the woman’s vagina, putting her at an even higher risk of HIV through contact with the perpetrators blood. Being a victim of rape is NEVER the victim’s fault. For steps on what to do after being raped, click here. 

Biological factors

The physical differences between both genders make the transmission of HIV easier for women compared to men because, during sex, a woman’s genitals are more exposed than her partner (which also increases the risk of other infections). The vagina has a larger surface area that’s exposed to the virus and semen left in the vagina means a longer time of exposure to the virus for women.

Lack of Access to Information 

Many women actually don’t have access to the information they need when it comes to healthcare. Young girls in South Africa risk dropping out of school, therefore not getting the education they need – even basic education around health and sex. Young woman are also more likely to be the ones who take care of their families at home and don’t have a chance go out and get the information they need (this is especially difficult if they live in rural areas where schools, clinics and libraries are far from home). For women who are in abusive relationships, their partners might actually deliberately keep them from their friends, families or anyone who could empower, support or teach them. All these facts make it very hard for women to get access to information and education that would help them understand their sexual reproductive health. 

For more information on what makes women more at risk of contracting HIV, read this article.

It’s important that you always practise safe and responsible sex, and just as important that you understand that there is information out there for you to help you understand HIV, STIs and your sexual reproductive rights. 

For some of that information you can simply search the Choma website. You can also contact me for advice or help. Contact me here on Ask Choma, send me a Facebook Message, a Twitter DM, or a WhatsApp Message (071 172 3657).