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A blue tarp covered the floor of the San Francisco dance studio that converted every Sunday to a place of worship. Mirrors lined the walls and dozens of folding chairs created neat rows. Vanessa Russell stood in the front row, singing devotional songs along with the congregation of about 50 people.
Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. At the time of this study, Jennifer S. Marriage presents the single greatest risk for HIV infection among women in rural Mexico. We also describe the intertwining of reputation-based sexual identities with structurally patterned sexual geographies i. For a growing of women in rural Mexico—and around the world—marital sex represents their single greatest risk for HIV infection. In rural Mexico, reputation is a critical aspect of sexual identity, and thus attention to socio-sexual reputations provides insight into why people act in ways that are socially safer but physically more risky.
The inevitability of infidelity: sexual reputation, social geographies, and marital hiv risk in rural mexico
We also sought to describe the intersection of culturally constructed notions of reputation with structurally patterned sociosexual geographies—that is, that particular kinds of social spaces bars, the main plaza, private trucks, transnational migrant communities in Atlanta shape sexual behavior in important ways.
Sexual geography calls attention to how sexual practices which would be shocking in one space are normal, and even expected, in another.
Overall, our point is that extramarital sex, although typically portrayed in Mexico and elsewhere as a breach of social norms, is a fundamental if tacit dimension of gendered social organization rather than the product of individual moral failings or a breakdown in social rules. We also introduce the concept of extramarital opportunity structuresdrawing on the sociological concept of opportunity structures to call attention to how extramarital sex is shaped by social, cultural, and economic forces. Our study was conducted in Degollado, a town of approximately residents although the actual population ebbs and flows with the patterns of seasonal migration between Mexico and the United States situated in the semirural western Mexican state of Jalisco.
The county seat, Degollado also has 2 banks, a of schools including a high school, many small grocery stores, a central market, and 2 modern supermarkets, as well as a small private hospital, several Internet cafes, and a of other local businesses. Recent attempts at local economic development include the opening of a clothing factory which promised many more jobs than it has been able to offer 10planting of agave in response to worldwide increases in tequila consumption, 11 and development of a regional stone carving industry.
Rural Mexico, where gender ratios among those living with AIDS are lower than ratios in urban areas, is at the forefront of this heterosexualization. Rural women are thought to be at particularly high risk of marital transmission because of the high rates of labor migration from rural areas to the United States and the ways in which migration represents a risk factor for HIV infection, with migrants networking sexually among populations with higher HIV prevalence rates, having limited access to preventive or curative health services, and frequently dealing with the social isolation of the migrant experience by seeking comfort in sexual intimacy.
Our data collection approach relied on participant observation, marital case studies, key informant interviews, and archival research. As can be seen, each method contributed distinctly to the triangulation that is so critical to ethnographic reliability.
Sampling of Degollado residents as participants in the marital case studies, which were conducted between February and June ofproceeded through the technique of systematic ethnographic sampling. This approach represents one of the innovative methodological elements of the Love, Marriage and HIV multisite project, of which this study was a part. Neither qualitative research as generally practiced in public health nor research within the tradition of ethnography tends to employ such sampling principles.
If culture is conceptualized solely as a complex set of shared ideas that only can be explored through intensive, in-depth research with a necessarily small of participants, then convenience sampling does not present a problem in terms of generalizability. Here, however, our theoretical framework explores how culture intertwines with social inequality to shape health practices.
It was critical, therefore, to ensure that—despite the small sample—participants were selected to include diversity in terms of the elements of social organization that research had indicated were most likely to influence the heath practices of interest. It also provided a framework allowing for cross-site exploration of differences and similarities in the ways in which factors such as labor migration or the life course shaped marital HIV risk across the study sites.
The final data set was comprised of field notes based on the participant observations of the 3 principal members of the research team and the transcribed interviews.
The analyses presented here drew primarily on participant observations, on the marital case study interviews, and on key informant interviews. We used archival research to provide background on economic, demographic, and epidemiological contexts. The 2 principal limitations of the research de were related to the fluidity of the population under study. First, our use of a single research site precluded fieldwork with men from Degollado who were living or working in the United States, making it impossible to explore how variations in the specific characteristics of migrant-receiving communities may shape risk.
research, conducted primarily with women, has described an increasingly widespread, companionate marital ideal in which intimacy, communication, and sexual pleasure figure prominently as measures of a successful relationship. However, the focus on women in this earlier work has left unanswered the questions of the extent to which men share this commitment to marital companionship and fidelity and, if they do, whether that has any influence on their extramarital sexual behavior.
In the interviews and case studies conducted in the spring ofwe found that young men across social classes share with their wives a marital ideal characterized by emotional intimacy, sexual pleasure, trust, and warmth, whereas men of older generations focus more on respect and fulfillment of gendered obligations. As in the similar generational shift observed ly with women, the growing prominence of a companionate marital ideal among men does not mean that younger men love their wives more than their fathers did.
Rather, the shift is more in the way that emotional intimacy, sexual pleasure, and personal satisfaction have gained prominence as goals in and of themselves as opposed to being byproducts of a life well lived.
One of our major findings was the importance of reputation as a locally meaningful axis of sexual identity. People invest in and draw from these sexual identities in gendered ways. When men resist the temptations of extramarital sex, they often talk about preserving their local reputations.
One of our participants reported that he had never gone beyond flirting with the attractive young secretaries in his family business:. Reputation is also considered a family characteristic, so women worry when their daughters marry the sons of notorious adulterers. Moreover, one young man in our study attributed his recent slide into alcoholism to the humiliation of having the whole town know that his father had discovered his mother in bed with her lover. Men have a particularly complex task in regard to these sexual selves because they serve 2 contradictory functions: men build relationships with other men by demonstrating an assertive, competent, and sexually Love to have sex Russell Pennsylvania masculinity, but they also demonstrate their respect and sometimes their love for their wives through carefully maintaining the appearance of fidelity.
There is a type of built-in symbolic tension for men in which succeeding too well at either extreme inherently means failing at the other. During the course of our participant observations, we learned that a man does not provoke censure for a drunken fling, but he does for driving down the street in broad daylight accompanied by a woman other than his wife. As an example, mockery was heaped upon a prominent local businessman whose wife taped him having sex with his secretary in Chicago and then parlayed the video into a handsome divorce settlement in a US family court.
Men and women in rural Mexico preserve public face by navigating strategically through 2 parallel dimensions of the local sexual geography. Another example is a US-based restaurateur who, during his long vacations in Degollado, took many trips to Guadalajara, supposedly to stock up on decorative handicrafts for his restaurants; however, these work-related responsibilities invariably provided cover for a trip to his favorite massage parlor.
International labor migration provides the most extreme illustration of how the gendered organization of labor intertwines with these concerns about reputation.
Through simultaneous marital and extramarital relationships, a man can have 1 woman to raise his children and provide him with hot food and clean clothes and another or several others to provide pleasure and diversion. Although women are increasingly employed in the formal labor market after marriage—most commonly in local commerce, as schoolteachers, or more rarely as professionals—parenting is still the central means through which women in rural Mexico gain social advancement and prestige and secure family relationships.
Despite falling fertility, the labor of parenting has if anything intensified, and to present a respectable social face women, particularly those with young children, invest an inordinate amount of time in washing, ironing, bathing, and grooming their children. The frequency with which men spoke of feeling neglected by their wives reflects tensions between the all-consuming maternal career and emerging ideals of marital companionship. Ideologically, marriage is increasingly positioned as a structure for intimacy and self-realization; in actuality, however, many of the couples in this study had remained married despite the affective quality of their relationship rather than because of it.
Moreover, in spite of the emergence of the companionate ideal, most women in these rural areas of Mexico still do not feel that mutual incompatibility justifies ending a marriage. Marriage is a required step in the journey to being an adult, as well as a means through which men ensure their biological and social reproduction.
Because in rural Mexico marriage is a requirement and not a choice, compulsory heterosexuality forces men who experience same-sex desires to marry and seek extramarital pleasure rather than assuming a public gay identity. Gendered social organization and traditional sexual cultures in rural Mexico intertwine to produce, simultaneously, great stress on compliance with gendered norms of self-presentation along with a certain degree of flexibility with regard to sexual object choice. In Degollado, we became acquainted with a of feminine-appearing men who had a great of sexual partners locally, many of them married men, some of whom paid them, some of whom they paid, and others with whom they had sexual intercourse in a context of short-lived romantic affectivity.
We also observed masculine-appearing men in pursuit of these feminine-appearing men or, when drunk, in pursuit of each other. Both masculine- and feminine-appearing men who enjoy sex with other men almost always marry, both for cover and for convenience. Esteban, for example, continues to suffer from remorse about having infected his wife with human papillomavirus. Marital disease transmission violates the central symbolic division of space in Mexican society—between the safe, ordered house and the dangerous, disordered street—and thus forces a couple to acknowledge those extramarital partnerships that reputational concerns dictate must not be discussed even within the privacy of the couple.
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It is this open acknowledgment, even more than the infidelity itself, that represents the breach of social expectations. Given the importance of public sexual selves, a major element shaping extramarital sex is the ease with which it can be hidden.
Most of the men included in our marital case studies talked about deliberately seeking out women who did not pose a risk of emotional or economic entanglement so that there would be no leakage of this semiprivate behavior onto the public stage of reputation. Commercial sex is the central means through which men seek socially safe sex. One migrant laborer recounted why he established a long-term connection with a lone woman during each of his nearly yearlong sojourns to the United States:. There are just things that freak you out. As I was telling you, I never did that [had a one-night stand].
That is, if I was with someone, it was from the time I got there [arrived in the United States for his annual sojourn], but only with one [woman], so that if I got something, like gonorrhea or syphilis, well, I would know because I was healthy before. With all the girls I took up with, I always talked with them, and we liked each other. Given the fact that all of the men expressed a fear of STIs, why did only some report that this fear actually shaped their behavior?
Love, we would argue, is the reason: men who expressed affection for their wives and who shared pleasurable companionship with them were much more likely to engage in extramarital sex with a commercial sex worker than with a girlfriend, whereas men with less emotionally and physically satisfying marriages were more likely to establish a long-term affective relationship with another woman.
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It does, however, shape how men respond to these extramarital opportunity structures. Not all men engaged in extramarital sex; among those who did not, religion, social class, and masculine ideologies were critical influences. Religion in this context Catholicism promotes mutual fidelity through an emphasis on the moral value of sexual continence outside of marriage, the argument that marital sex is the only real form of physically, morally, and socially safe sex and the idea that condoms are unreliable which we heard from several local religious figures.
Religion also shapes behavior institutionally: the Christian Family Movement, for example, not only teaches participants about the value of physically and spiritually satisfying marital sex but also provides an alternative set of social spaces such as potluck dinners through which movement members can enjoy couple-oriented heterosociality.
Social class forms a key part of the terrain that enables some men to avoid extramarital sex. Extramarital sex was not confined to the less educated and wealthy men in our sample, but there were certainly more professional and property-owning men who were faithful to their wives. Not surprisingly, men with greater social and economic resources were less in need of whatever resources they might secure through these masculine relationships, and thus on the whole they were less likely to engage in these infidelity-facilitating patterns of homosociality.
Moreover, middle-class and upper-middle-class couples have access to material foundations for conjugal heterosociality that provide alternatives to cantinas and billiard halls.
Through our participant observations, we gained insight into how the social fabric of middle- and upper-class life facilitates fidelity: larger houses, smaller families, and private cars enable members of the middle and upper classes to host gatherings of like-minded friends and to partake of couple- and family-type activities such as dining out on Sundays, making trips to the movies or visits to a zoo, or even taking an annual beach vacation. Elite women also have servants on whom they rely for laundry, ironing, cooking, housework, and child care, thus facilitating the simultaneous production of well-groomed children, well-kept houses, and sexually satisfied husbands.
Others have discussed how Mexican ideals of manhood are subject to dissension and internal critique, 46 and here we would add that men who are faithful articulate an encompassing vision of themselves as family men and the partners of their wives.
Rather than focusing on presenting a deftly packaged public sexual self to their wives, these men insist on a seamlessness between their sexual reputation and their inner self that precludes the possibility of hidden sexual indiscretions.
Public health efforts to encourage such family-oriented masculinity would be redundant, in that this form of masculinity is already being promoted by marketing and the media. Men who talk about fidelity as a crucial element of their modern masculinity might appear to be cultural innovators, but they are simply availing themselves of locally available discourses about modern masculinity in constructing an alternative masculinity.
The reputational dimension of sexual identity has implications both for HIV prevention locally and for the framing of prevention programs more broadly. First, given the ways in which men are expected to manage their extramarital sexuality, a man who infects his wife is likely to be the subject of scorn. Public silence, however, has been a crucial strategy through which men protect their wives from the social risks of infidelity, and so creating effective community-based dialogues about marital HIV risk faces the formidable challenge of how to raise the issue, as it were, without breaking the silence.
Second, we must take social risk seriously, remembering that the individuals we aim to reach with our prevention programs do not necessarily have maximization of their own individual health as their foremost goal. Local constructions of sexual risk have much more to do with reputation than disease; at the moment, the social risk of sexual intercourse feels much more real to people in Degollado than does the HIV risk although this perception may change as the epidemic takes shape locallyand they behave accordingly.
Third, we should consider grounding community-based HIV prevention programs in this notion of sexual geography.