Marriage, Masculinity and HIV Risk in Southeastern Nigeria

Daniel Smith, Brown University

This paper examines the social context of HIV infection in marriage in Nigeria. Based on an intensive ethnographic study in the southeastern region, it traces the relationship between modern marriage, patterns of gender inequality, extramarital sexual behavior, and popular responses of the HIV epidemic. Common representations of AIDS in Africa link risk to promiscuous sexual conduct and detrimental traditional practices, including men’s extramarital sexual relationships. Here, extramarital sexual behavior is examined anthropologically, showing how the social organization of extramarital sexuality is itself located at the intersection of economic inequality, aspirations for modern lifestyles, gender norms, and contradictory moralities. The findings argue against notions of African traditions, promiscuous women, and pervasive immorality as the causes of Nigeria’s and Africa’s AIDS epidemic, and instead show how particular practices of masculinity and anxieties about sexual morality contribute to risks produced primarily by poverty and inequality.

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Presented in Session 57: Implications of Gender Interactions and Ideologies for Reproductive Behavior