While developmental psychological literature considers the threat of HIV as a health risk in dating relationships, little if any research has examined the psychological strain that the threat of HIV places on dating couples. This study aimed at investigating HIV-related dating stress. The data were collected through a self-administered questionnaire from a sample of 204 students at the University of Botswana aged 18 to 21 years. Most participants were worried about the possibility of contracting HIV through their dating relationships. HIV-related stress derived from: engaging in a sexual relationship; doubts about their partner’s trustworthiness, honesty and fidelity; and an inability to communicate with their partner about HIV. Length of dating and sexual intercourse did not result in significant differences in the experience of stress. The results suggest that learning how to deal with the threat of HIV in relationships without compromising interpersonal trust and sexual health becomes a developmental challenge. The results indicate that the threat of HIV creates a cognitive and emotional dilemma, which makes young people prone to engaging in denial to maintain trust in their relationships. Knowledge about HIV-related dating stress and coping mechanisms can benefit psychological counselling and sexual health education for young people.
Key words: Adolescence, Botswana, dating relationships, developmental psychology, dyadic trust, emerging adulthood, health psychology, HIV and AIDS, stress and coping.
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