Masculinity and risk: how gender constructs drive sexual risks in the Caribbean

Plummer, David C. (2013) Masculinity and risk: how gender constructs drive sexual risks in the Caribbean. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 10 (3). pp. 165-174.

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Between 2006 and 2008, detailed interviews were conducted with 138 men with a median age of 24 years (ranging from 16 to 39) from seven Anglophone Caribbean countries and one territory: Anguilla, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. The interviews investigated prevalent construction(s) of masculinity in the region, with particular attention to transitions from childhood to manhood, boys' education, risk-taking, health, violence, and crime. This paper examines the relationship between masculinity and risk. Far from being considered antisocial and to be avoided, risk-taking serves to define youthful masculinity and is sought out and experienced as a rite of passage. Having multiple female sexual partners is a hallmark of a "real man" and not being considered a "real man" is shameful—potentially fatal in homophobic settings. Paradoxically, by stigmatizing "insufficient" sexual interest in women and valorizing the quest for multiple female partners, homophobia acts as a potent driver of heterosexual risk. While risk was definitive of masculinity, safety was not. Avoiding a reputation for "sexual failure" often takes precedence over the threat of pregnancy or catching a sexually transmissible infection. On the contrary, pregnancy confirms manhood and sexual potency—even when it is unwanted. The research found that safety directly challenges the obligations of manhood and this may explain why HIV control has been so difficult. Condoms are foregone if there is a risk of appearing sexually inexperienced or of losing an erection, especially if details of this "failure" might leak out. Likewise, abstinence and sticking to one partner are incompatible with virile masculinity and displaying insufficient heterosexual interest can imply homosexuality and provoke homophobic consequences. All forms of sexual safety as they are currently framed—condoms, partner reduction, and abstinence—implicitly challenge masculine norms and all convey notions of emasculation.

Item ID: 25684
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1553-6610
Keywords: masculinity, masculine taboos, manhood, sexuality, sexual risk, Caribbean, gender, homophobia, socially embedded risks, KAP gap, HIV, violence, boys' education, condoms, abstinence
Date Deposited: 20 Jun 2013 02:04
FoR Codes: 11 MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES > 1117 Public Health and Health Services > 111712 Health Promotion @ 100%
SEO Codes: 92 HEALTH > 9205 Specific Population Health (excl. Indigenous Health) > 920505 Mens Health @ 100%
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