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Keywords:

  • HIV/AIDS;
  • marital aspirations;
  • sexual behaviors;
  • sub-Saharan Africa

We explore how marital aspirations are related to the sexual behaviors of adolescents and young adults in Malawi, where HIV/AIDS prevalence among adults exceeds 10%. We also consider whether the specter of AIDS is shaping ideals about marriage. By combining survey data (N = 1,087) and in-depth interviews (N = 133) with young Malawians from the Malawi Diffusion and Ideational Change Project, we show that looking for and finding a suitable spouse are linked to sexual behaviors and, thus, HIV risks. Moreover, concerns about contracting HIV are closely tied to the ideal characteristics of a future spouse. Our findings draw long-overdue attention to the importance of marital aspirations in understanding adolescent sexual behaviors and risks in the era of AIDS.