Psychology, Department of


Document Type


Date of this Version

September 1993


Published in Social Science and Medicine 37:5 (1993), pp. 661–670. Copyright © 1993 Pergamon Press Ltd./Elsevier. Used by permission. Online @


Street youth are at risk of HIV infection worldwide. To develop effective prevention strategies, information about the meanings and functions of sexual activity for street youth is needed. In this paper, data from structured questionnaires, focus group discussions, in-depth interviews and field observations are used to build up a picture of the sexual culture of 9-to-18-year-olds living and/or working on the streets of a large Brazilian city. The findings reveal that these children and adolescents engage in sexual behavior that puts them at risk of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, and reinforce that sex is a multi-determined and entrenched behavior in this population. Interventions must take into account the fact that for street youth, sex is used as a means of ensuring survival, seeking comfort, finding pleasure, and dealing with psychological issues that arise during adolescence.