Working to Advance
Health Equity in Africa

Insights: On men, masculinities and HIV

Insights: On men, masculinities and HIV

Men in Africa are often considered as highly sexual, needing multiple partners and engaging in non-relational forms of sexuality. It also appears as if men are licensed within traditional social norms be more aggressive in seeking sex and engaging in harmful sexual practices. It is therefore not surprising that in the context of HIV and AIDS, men are then typically positioned as being central to the spread of the epidemic.

In considering how dominant constructions of masculinity contributes to HIV/AIDS,  Geeta Rao Gupta noted this some 15 years ago, where she refers to a ‘hydraulic’ model of male sexuality that suggests a variety of sexual partners is essential for men to attain sexual satisfaction (or release). The biological narrative is nonetheless not a complete account with numerous stories on prevailing cultural and social norms that pressure young men into sex to prove their manhood. Narratives of male sexuality depicting men as being invulnerable, aggressive and unemotional can lead to denial of their risk for HIV, discourage attempts to protect themselves from potential infection and seek help if they are ill.

Notions of masculinity have clear implications for men’s sexual health and a greater understanding of men’s realities can benefit the development of programmes aimed at reducing the spread and impact of HIV. More work is needed to explore these complex positions that men assume in relation to heterosexuality, gendering practices of institutional formations (family, schooling, employment etc) and AIDS.  Epistemological approaches to studies on masculinities are an intensely debated field with descriptive, interpretative and constructionist/discursive perspectives dominating these conversations.

More recently, we have seen approaches that focus on men’s experiences in situ, focusing on discourses that privilege or constrain men’s practices as well as how men invest in and are simultaneously positioned by different discursive constructions. These approaches offer some interesting insights into men’s realities and possibilities for how we think about interventions.

Related research on masculinity:

‘Sticks and stones’: masculinities and conflict spaces: Drawing upon a post-structural ethnography of boys’ constructions of gendered and sexual identities in one South African high school, this paper empirically seeks to theorise how 20 Grade 8 boys, simultaneously seek out spaces in male peer culture to cultivate, police and challenge hegemonic notions of masculinity.

The cool, the bad, the ugly, and the powerful: identity struggles in schoolboy peer culture: This paper seeks to empirically explore and theorise how 58 grade 10 and grade 11 working-class boys create and seek out spaces among their male peers from which to cultivate their masculinities through heterosexual discourses, including being ‘at risk’ of getting AIDS.