Theology of Human Sexuality in the Context of HIV and AIDS

Theology of Human Sexuality in the Context of HIV and AIDS

12 December 2015

Dr L M Ngoetjana


This presentation can be divided into two main areas in which the topic of Human Sexuality in the Context of HIV and AIDS have been discussed. One area is that of the theological and the other the psychosocial perspectives of Human Sexuality. The theological part seeks to argue that humanity is but one homo sapiens despite of a given gender or sexual orientation. The perspective of social psychology takes its departure from the general agreements of its research on human sexuality and social roles and behavioral orientation applied in the context of HIV and AIDS.

Gift from God: Approaching the subject of human sexuality in the context of HIV and AIDS, it is perceived that humanity and the whole existence of being as reality encountered is better expressed as a gift from God. The notion of the existence of God is not in question in this task but the realization that human sexuality in the context of HIV and AIDS is perceived reality as we cognitively assume and wrestle with it.

In this perception we realize that the whole of the human being, body, experience, perception, spirituality and all that constitute it is intrinsically and inextricably sexual as well. The gift from God that is human sexuality is indestructible in mortality. As human beings live, they are holistically sexual beings. External experiences such as infection and affection with HIV do not necessarily extinguish the essence of human sexuality.

Human Sexuality – Gift and Responsibility

Human sexuality is one of the beauties of Gods creation (in Knox-Seith, E. 2005: 34). It is so wonderful and fulfilling especially when practiced as far as it is humanly possible within the prescripts of God which comes with the repercussions and responsibilities of such an engagement. Human sexuality should involve the whole human being, spirit, soul and body. Addition it must be carried with the respect due to its sacredness and glorious beauty.

Human sexuality demonstrates the mighty works of God worthy of respect, care. Besides the questions of procreation and pleasure, it is a practice where the mighty works of God can be made manifest by this Gift through the process of coition, conception and birth.

On the other hand this Gift of God is one very susceptible to abuse. The commercialization and commoditization of human sexuality is one of the major abuses of this beautiful gift. Business in human trafficking is base and mundane. It is a form of abuse and misuse of human sexuality.

The demonization of human sexuality as seen in some of the religious teachings and practices is equally unfounded. Human sexuality is given by God and must simply just not be used or abused for other needs of extreme human gratification.

Gender and the substance of the human flesh: A Theology

Women and men are co-substantial, co-equal and co-existent just as the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit are in the God-head in the Trinity. Women and men are made of the same material substance. The selection of gender is not a human privilege. A gender is not essential to being human. So all actions and thoughts informed by gender differentiation are theologically baseless.

Views on Gender and the Essence of Being

Views on gender and the essence of being such as the worth of being male against the worthlessness of being female which are informed by traditional culture and theology must be challenged.

Men must wrestle with the idea that gender is not constitutive of the essence of being but the principle of life or the Image of God is. Platforms created for Men’s Forums must make this debate towards the transformation of culture and theology possible.

Gender HIV and AIDS in the context of human sexual activity

Infection and being affected by HIV does not remove sexual desire. People infected and affected with HIV must not be deprived from sexual activity. People infected and affected by HIV must be encouraged to practice safe sex. Human sexuality must be practiced in the best interest of the entire humanity.

Gender and socio-political, religio-cultural inequalities

What about gender issues in the time of Jesus? His society was patriarchal; male and female roles were sharply differentiated, with women’s roles centering on the family and home. A woman who could not have children felt deep shame (as in I Sam. 1: 12) Widows were especially vulnerable. Divorce was easy (for the man)”.

A rabbinical custom was to thank God daily, as a man, that you had not been born a woman, slave or foreigner. Religions leaders were not permitted to speak to women in public; religion did not value women’s spiritual contributions” (icmdahivinitiative). “Jesus broke with these assumptions and traditions. He extended honour and respect to all women. Women experienced the power of His miracles. He taught that women were equal to men in the sight of God. Jesus taught that women could also receive forgiveness of sin and the gift of salvation by grace. Jesus taught that women can be his followers and fully participate in the Kingdom (sic) of God. In an era where women could not be legal witnesses Jesus caused that they be his witnesses (Lk in the. 24: 9 – 11).

Gender, stigma, HIV and AIDS

Stigma, shame, denial, discrimination, inaction and mis-action (SSDDIM) are six related evils that continue to either frustrate or slow down our HIV&AIDS prevention, care, and treatment, and impact mitigation efforts” (Gideon).

Silence about sexuality (Knox-Seith, E 2005: 11 ff v.1) in our time does not help anymore. We must begin sex talk at home as early as possible addressing the topic according to the level of the maturity of our children and in social spaces which are providing the necessary freedom to talk about sex. We must cross the boundaries of fear and prejudice and enter the sphere of freedom and responsibility when it comes to matters of human sexuality.

Research Report of KZNCC (2009): Comprehensive Report’s Practicable Key Recommendations

The KZNCC research was about The Sociological and Religious Experiences of People on Antiretroviral Treatment: Concern for Human Dignity, Problems of Access and Affordability, Programmes of Counselling, Supervision and Care. A follow-up research was done to measure the impact and progress made since the first one done in 2006. The follow-up research was done in 2010. The Executive summary of the 2010 research report read as follows:

The general findings of the research presented a positive picture. The interviewees it is revealed are happy in the manner in which they are personally living with HIV and a adhering to the ARVs. They paint a very positive picture about the change in attitude of the places of worship and fellow worshippers. They are elated by the way in which households and members of the households are supporting and journeying with them and the same positive feeling is expressed concerning the health institutions and practitioners who have created a caring atmosphere for PLWHA and people of ARVs”.

The key recommendations were presented as follows:

1. Though the majority of the people interviewed feel that PLWHA and being on ARVs is not a punishment from God the 11% which feel it is so need attention as well. The message of the grace, the love and care of God must be presented with more vigor and urgency. Conduct Bible studies, theology of HIV, gender and care.

2. Teach people about the importance of discloser so that they can be supported properly.

3. Give attention to a remnant of nurses who still make stigmatising comments regarding PLWHA and people on ARVt. These nurses, some of them are not educated about this challenge. They comment negatively about PLHWA and on ARVt saying in public at a place of health service – why do you cough so much? Why do you always have a running tummy? What are you eating? These comments are suggestive. Pay attention to the nurses who have stigma. Pay attention to the promises of giving food parcels in vain. Patients need to be honest to nurses about their status. One must not say I have a headache without saying at a properly demarcated place I have this condition – either living with the virus or on treatment. Begin an investigation on the allegation that some health workers still people’s CD4 counts from files for ulterior motives. Organise an exposure visit by the church – pastors.

4. More support groups must be initiated in places of worship. The pastors still need education and information on HIV

5. KZNCC must extend this research to the whole province and compare regional findings, reasons and recommendations.

6. KZNCC must conduct provincial workshops with this research methodology to empower regional emerging researchers

7. Increase more awareness in churches by having a systematic programme of PLWHA and people on ARVt to address the churches on Sunday services.

8. KZNCC must have along side with HIV education and exposure a programme of distributing food parcels especially to people of ARVt.

9. Continue doing workshops to educate the religious sector on HIV and AIDS. Encourage churches to form support groups. Churches must be encouraged to visit people at home. Churches must be encouraged to give both spiritual and material support.

10. This report must be made available to traditional leaders, political leaders, implicated government departments and churches to implement recommendations best suited for them.

11. Individual fellow worshippers must be encouraged the more to give and make an added effort to support PLWHA and those on ARVt. The churches must run workshops on awareness of the myths and forms of denial some people are entangled in and try to dispel such myths.

12. The churches who are working in the area of HIV and AIDS must seek to be in partnership with the health care institution and contribute their share of the fight against HIV and AIDS.

13. Equal emphasis and effort must be given to attending to the elderly people when it comes to dealing with the issues of HIV and AIDS. Conduct family camps of HIV and AIDS including and involving the elderly as well.

14. Run workshops for nurses to help them create a situation where people can easily disclose their status. The same workshops could be run for families and doctors.

15. KZNCC commence with food production projects – fruit and vegetable gardens etc

Gender, Human Rights and Constitutionalism

Especially in the traditionally conservative cultures and theology, it has been muted out that the new Constitution which enshrines the Bill of Rights for all and promotes equality of men and women before the law and in all walks of life, like access to education and employment opportunities has emasculated men. With more debate and mutual education and enlightenment, men are beginning to realise that some tenets of patriarchal structures were indeed oppressive to women and that there is a need to transform and change for the well being of all.

Masculinity and Infidelity

The perception that men who have many mistresses are heroes while women can not do the same and have praise must be challenged. In the context of HIV and AIDS among many methods of preventing new infections the message of fidelity must go through. We just need to keep on spreading messages of prevention including one of faithfulness. The typical cultural proverbial “Isoga” (a man with many mistresses) must be challenged at least at a debate level. The protagonists of Isoga must loose the debate. In other words much that we have emphasized the use of condoms we must equally emphasize the importance of Abstinence, Being Faithful, and Reducing Multiple sexual partners in our fight against HIV and AIDS (Green 2003: 53ff)

Masculinity and Economic Inequality

The manipulation of women by men through control of the means of living must be overcome by empowering women to become economically independent. It is in God’s plan that humanity must work for a living and not be denied the opportunity to do so for both men and women. Structurally, the quest for involvement and activity of women in the mainstream of the economy and meaningful participation of women in political decision making positions is being realised in a visible way. Masculine economic structures must be transformed to accommodate women and their lifestyle. Women must not be disadvantaged in fulfilling their God given way of living.

Masculinity and Cultural Categorization (Izingane = Children)

The classical categorization of women as children must be addressed in the men and gender theological and cultural debates and discussions. In the world where HIV and AIDS is widespread, men and women can do better by treating each other as adult and behaving likewise and so jointly cooperate in safe sex and together fight the scourge of HIV and AIDS. Persistent has been the cultures and theologies of keeping a woman at her place, in the kitchen. And resilient has been the theologies of ‘a woman is made for a man thinking’. These theologies and cultures promoting the idea of the inferiority of women must be challenged. In the context of HIV and AIDS women must be emancipated to participate in civil life and church leadership structures and have their voice heard when matters of human sexuality are debated and discussed even on an academic level.

Masculinity as Empowerment through Re-Appropriation

The notion of the unrelenting appropriation of socialization propaganda (enhancing chauvinism and patriarchy), negative in most cases as it has been when it comes to helping in the fight against HIV and AIDS must be re-appropriated to carry positive messages about the pandemic. Much that traditional structures must be challenged to transform in the age of freedom and human rights; while we do so indeed, the Men’s Forums should be helping men to begin to be positive and helpful in fighting HIV and AIDS as men in leadership today.

Emancipating interpretation of scripture

Women are core players, or fellow players in the game of life and sex. Women, are not just victims of circumstances. Women are also making choices in life. I guise even in the context of masculinity, men, gender and HIV and AIDS. Women are bringing their own hermeneutic and value to theology and human sexuality. And the principles of health and healing found in the scriptures hold and are relevant to both our contextual theologisation and evidential findings of empirical scientific inquiry. In summary, clean living, clean behaviour, clean environment, clean water, clean food, clean sex, clean relationships, clean hands, clean clothes an clean habits are a partial answer to the combat of HIV and AIDS”.

HIV not a Virus of the Scriptures:

The challenge of HIV and AIDS, in inference is related to the texts of disease and healing in the scriptures. HIV and AIDS is not the virus nor the syndrome found in the scriptures. HIV and AIDS is our modern challenge. We can only relate the virus and the syndrome in inference to the scriptures. What we are learning here is that we are beginning to do a theology of HIV and AIDS, and care more and more.

Social Psychology – General Agreements in the Context of HIV and AIDS

General agreement exists about characteristics of men and women in various groups despite differences in sex, age, religion, marital status and educational level” (Severy, B and Schlenker, 1976: 139).

Characteristics descriptive of men are more highly valued that are characteristics description of women” (Severy, B and Schlenker, 1976: 139).

The positively valued masculine characteristics may be grouped together to form a profile which includes competence, rationality and assertiveness. On the other hand, the positively valued female characteristics may be grouped together to form a profile which includes warmth and expressiveness” (Severy, B and Schlenker, 1976: 139).

“ … sex-identity differences are considered “desirable” by college students, “healthy” by mental health professionals, and “ideal” by both men and women” (Severy, B and Schlenker, 1976: 139).

Gender Typing is about categorising things as masculine or feminine. Self-presentation is about display of gender as ones prominent part. The use of gender to structure elements of social life has been basic. Gender typing has a characteristic of impression formation about self as male and female.

Gender Stereotypes is belief about personal attributes of women and men. There are also cultural and personal stereotypes. Cultural Stereotypes is exposure to sex images presented by our culture. Personal stereotypes are our own unique beliefs about the attributes of groups of people such as women and men.

Behavioral Theories in Social Psychology

Behavior Learning Theories are about Association, Classical Conditioning, Reinforcement, and Observational Learning (models/ Imitation/modeling) (Sears, 1988: 8ff)

Cognitive Theories: Are about Perception of the social situation; formulation of Thought; Beliefs about a situation; The importance of the social environment as perceived by the individual; perceiving in groups; Social Cognition (examines perception and encoding of social information, studies integration and classification of information, examines social memory, i.e. how individuals store, retrieve information about people and social events). Cognitive approaches focus on current perceptions, current interpretations, not the ‘reality’ of the situation ((Sears, 1988: 10)

■ “Motivational” Theories: Are about the individual needs or motives. Theorises that human needs influence, human perceptions, attitudes and behaviour. “The core idea is that situations can create or arouse needs which, in turn, lead people to engage in behaviors to reduce the need” (Sears, 1988: 12)

Decision Making Theories: Are about people calculating the costs and benefits of various actions and pick the best alternatives in a fairly logical way ((Sears, 1988: 12). Incentive theory is one about weighing pros and cons and then adopting the best one.

Social Exchange Theories: Are about the behaviour of two or more people who interact with each other. Social Exchange Theories built on Learning Theories and Decision making Theories. The social exchange is about interacting concerning the costs and benefits, pros and cons of their ultimate decision and action. “Social Exchange Theory analyses interpersonal interaction on the basis of costs and benefits to each person of possible waysa they can interact” (Sears, 1988: 13)

Role Theories: Are about the role each person will play within norm of society. “The social structural perspective emphasizes that individuals, like actors, play out pre-existing scripts – prescribed social rules of behaviour – i.e. social norms” (Sears, 1988: 14). On the other hand the “interactional perspective views people as characters improving and constructing their own social scripts” (Sears, 1988: 14).

Psychological Masculinity, Femininity, and Androgyny (and the Undifferentiated) -An Analysis:

Gender self concept: How much am I masculine, feminine, androgynous of undifferentiated? (Sears, 1988: 443)

The Psychologically Androgynous : ( Greek – Andro = male; Gyne = female): – about combining attributes (Sears, 1988: 443)

A Two-dimensional model of psychological masculinity and Femininity

High Masculinity


Low Femininity


High Femininity



Low Masculinity

Behavioral Flexibility = Androgynous: It is concluded that an androgynous persons are best able to adjust in most social situations because they exhibit strong characteristics of being male and female. The opposite thereof being that of undifferentiated persons. On the other hand the persons who fall in the second and fourth quadrant would be the normative male and female of a heterogeneous society

Socialisation: Socialisation is the manner in which society influences its members to think, behave and act according to their way of doing things in terms of mainly their gender. Other words socialisation is gender and class stereotyping. Certain questions and phrases are almost set to streamline and socialize members of society. In certain circumstances such as child birth often a question is asked: What gender is the newly born one? What shall be his/her name? What colour clothing shall we buy for the baby? “Boys don’t cry”? Such questions have their accompanying set of responses and counter responses such as: So and so has worked; or we thank God for the newly born. One can almost guess that the former and the latter are responses for a boy child or a girl child respectively.


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