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Fact Sheet: Promoting Change

December 1, 2000

Promoting New Social Norms

Some of the social norms that define male and female roles encourage harmful behaviors, especially in the areas of sexual relations. Working with men, women and young people to change some of their attitudes and behaviors has enormous potential to change the course of the HIV epidemic.
  • Parents can be powerful reinforcers of more positive roles for both men and women.

  • Parents, relatives, teachers and other adults can help young boys and girls learn about and discuss gender roles and sexual decision making.

  • Youth are often unaware of the dangerous intersection of drug use, unsafe sex and HIV.

  • Young people are often unaware that alcohol and drugs weaken their decision making ability and frequently put them at risk of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.


  • Issues of concern to many young people, such as puberty, masturbation, sexual image, self esteem, gender identity, relating to the opposite sex, attraction to the same sex and the age of sexual initiation, can be discussed.

  • Boys, who often pretend they know a great deal about sex but in reality are uninformed or misinformed, can be encouraged to face their fears and anxieties about having sex.

  • Young men can discuss concerns such as penis size and sexual performance. Young girls can discuss concerns about issues such as sexual reputation and the risks of pregnancy.

  • Young women can address the female stereotype of submissiveness toward men.

  • Young girls can learn how to refuse sexual advances and manage male aggressiveness.

  • All young people need encouragement and skills training in how to resist peer pressure.

Strategies for Young People

  • Programs that address the risks of drug use and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, are critical prevention strategies.

  • Providing positive adult role models can change stereotypes and harmful attitudes.

  • Peer educators can exert a powerful influence on young people.

  • Encourage boys to discuss positive versus negative male roles and behaviors.

  • Vocational training, violence and substance abuse prevention, and counseling services are effective in HIV prevention.

  • Reaching out to young people wherever they congregate -- in schools, churches, parks, sports events, clubs, bars and juvenile justice centers -- is an effective strategy.

What Schools Can Do

With the support of teachers, parents and community leaders, schools can become prime locations for education about sexuality, AIDS and life-skills that can help boys and girls avoid endangering themselves and their partners. Strategies that work include the following:
  • Getting parents involved in the HIV prevention curriculum

  • Having effective male and female mentors on staff who can serve as role models

  • Selecting materials to reinforce positive male and female roles

  • Providing safe spaces for boys and girls to talk freely and to support one another

  • Providing safe spaces where gay and lesbian youth can address their concerns

  • Ensuring that sexual health education is presented by trained and sensitive staff

  • Informing youth about abstinence and safer sex strategies

  • Offering opportunities for youth to discuss their diverse concerns, including sexual self image, sexual conduct, and sexual orientation

  • Discussing with girls how to empower themselves and to resist unwanted sexual advances

  • Discussing the responsibility of boys and girls in sexual relations and proper sexual conduct

Strategies for Men

  • Providing support groups for men of all sexual orientations is effective. These allow men to discuss issues of concern and reinforce issues of safer sex for each other.

  • Men often prefer health clinics that provide special men's nights or hours, hours compatible with work schedules, staff sensitive to men's needs, and male doctors and nurses.

Strategies for Women

  • Support groups for women can explore issues, such as controlling when and with whom to have sex and negotiating condom use.

  • Informing women about effective female-controlled prevention methods, such as the female condom, is an effective strategy.

[See the Fact Sheet "Successful Prevention Programs"]

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This article was provided by American Association for World Health. It is a part of the publication AIDS: All Men -- Make a Difference!.