This article investigates the significance of love, sex and relationships for the social becoming of young black, heterosexual men in the context of a South African university campus. The article, which is based on one year of ethnographic fieldwork at the Turfloop Campus of the University of Limpopo, shows that the ways in which young men qualify as men are not only contested and rapidly changing in contemporary South Africa, but also that young men’s sense of their masculine selves vary according to situation and context. From the historical and ethnographic descriptions of the traditions of different ethnic groups in the Southern African region, there is widespread documentation of rites of passage, where adolescent boys spend an extended period of time in a circumcision lodge after which they are considered to be men. Although some students at Turfloop make reference to this definition by evoking the vocabulary of the different stages inherent in the rites of passage in talking about these matters, the larger majority of the male students have not attended these lodges and aspire to other ways of acquiring and exhibiting masculinity. Parting with notions of male dominance promoted in South African HIV/AIDS research, this article therefore makes the case for a situational approach to masculinity. Inspired at the same time by a rethinking of the life stage model in anthropology, it is argued that in the context of this South African university campus the social becoming and social standing of young men have come to be premised primarily on the ability to demonstrate an active love and sex life.
male sexuality, initiation, social becoming, manhood, vital conjunctures, South Africa