OBJECTIVE: The objective of this paper is to assess the level of knowledge and information held by the population about HIV/AIDS, and to analyze discourses about condom use and sexual practices. METHODS: Qualitative research with 64 young people and adults, black and white, sexually active men and women. Vulnerability to HIV/AIDS was discussed from the perspective of racial (black or white), generational (between 16 and 45 or 24 years or older) and gender (male or female). In-depth interviews were conducted with a semi-structured script in the cities of São Paulo (SP) and Recife (PE) on the following themes: knowledge and perception about STD/AIDS, perception of individual risk, negotiation and condom use, sexual initiation and practices. RESULTS: The least-educated, men, elders and residents of Recife were the least informed persons as regards to HIV/AIDS. People over 45 years and the less educated had incipient knowledge about transmission and prevention of STD/AIDS. Condom use among respondents in both cities was relatively low, non-use of condoms among women in stable relationship was attributed to partner's refusal to using it. Among respondents who reported using condoms, the type of relationship established and the phase of the relationship resulted in varied patterns of use; the consistent use of condoms was more common in occasional partnerships. CONCLUSIONS: The incipient knowledge in association with unsafe sexual practice puts women in stable relationship, poorly educated, lower income, particularly above 45 years, and residents of Recife in a situation of greater vulnerability to STD/AIDS.
STD/AIDS and Social Vulnerability; Gender; Race and Generation Inequities; Condom use; Brazil