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The Secret

Love, Marriage, and HIV

Jennifer S. Hirsch, Holly Wardlow, Daniel Jordan Smith, Harriet M. Phinney, Shanti Parikh, and Constance A. Nathanson

Publication Year: 2009

For many women around the world, their greatest risk of HIV infection comes from having sex with the very person with whom they are supposed to have sex: their spouse. The Secret situates marital HIV risk within a broader exploration of marital and extramarital sexuality in five diverse settings: Mexico, Nigeria, Uganda, Vietnam, and Papua New Guinea. In these settings, the authors write, men's extramarital sex is an officially secret but actually widespread (and widely acknowledged) social practice, rather than something men do because their bodies demand it and women can’t stop them. Drawing on research conducted as part of an innovative comparative ethnographic study, and modeling a novel approach to collaborative anthropological scholarship, the authors show men's extramarital sex to be a fundamental aspect of gendered social organization. Through theoretically sophisticated yet lucid writing and vivid ethnographic description, drawing on rich data from the marital case studies conducted by research teams in each country, they trace how extramarital opportunity structures, sexual geographies, and concerns about social risk facilitate men’s participation in extramarital sex. Also documented throughout is the collision between traditional ways and the new practices of romantic companionate marriage.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press


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Title Page

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p. iii

Table of Contents

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xiv

Both collectively and as individuals, we’ve accumulated quite a list of people without whom the “Love, Marriage, and HIV” project and this book would not have been possible. The project had its genesis in Carlos del Rio’s off-the-cuff remark to Jennifer in the spring of 1999 that for most women in the world, their biggest risk of HIV infection comes from having sex with their husbands. For that ...

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pp. 1-21

Chigozie and Ihunanya married in 1994.1 They first met in Lagos, Nigeria’s huge commercial capital, where each had been a young migrant struggling to find a better life in the city. To hear them tell their story, they married because they fell in love, though they both acknowledged that it had been easier to convince their extended families they were a good match because they hailed originally from neighboring ...

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Chapter 1. From “Cultural Traits” to Global Processes: Methods for a Critical Comparative Ethnography

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pp. 23-52

In stark contrast to anthropology’s lone-wolf model of research and publication, we conducted the fieldwork for this project as a collaborative effort, sharing jointly developed research guides.1 We hoped that the comparative ethnographic research design would enable us (1) to distinguish between the features of each field site that had wider theoretical and public health significance and those that were particular to ...

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Chapter 2. The Geography of Desire: Social Space, Sexual Projects, and the Organization of Extramarital Sex in Rural Mexico

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pp. 53-83

The geography of desire in Degollado is sharply divided between public spaces for the performance of sexual respectability and a semi-private backstage for illicit relations.1 The meaning of each is mutually constituted, so that one makes sense only in light of the other; extramarital sex represents here not the negation of marriage but its complement. In exploring spatial aspects of sexuality in rural Mexico ...

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Chapter 3. Gender Inequality, Infidelity, and the Social Risks of Modern Marriage in Nigeria

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pp. 84-107

For quite some time, it has been common in anthropology to question the concept of culture. The discipline most responsible for popularizing culture as a lens for understanding human societies has grown increasingly anxious about its own foundations (Marcus and Fischer 1986; Clifford 1988; Abu-Lughod 1991). The reasons for anthropology’s anxieties about the culture concept are manifold and ...

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Chapter 4. “Eaten One’s Fill and All Stirred Up”: Doi Moi and the Reconfiguration of Masculine Sexual Risk and Men’s Extramarital Sex in Vietnam

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pp. 108-135

As my family and I were being driven to Tay Phuong Pagoda, about fifty miles outside Hanoi, I took the opportunity to question Anh Binh, our young male driver, about men’s extramarital relations.1 Although he spoke English, I conversed with him in Vietnamese so my children would not understand. Somewhat surprised by my question, he nonetheless proceeded to answer it. As part of his explanation ...

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Chapter 5. “Whip Him in the Head with a Stick!”: Marriage, Male Infidelity, and Female Confrontation among the Huli

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pp. 136-167

Miriam only had a sixth-grade education, but she had become relatively well off: her husband was a coffee buyer, purchasing green coffee beans from families in the Tari area and selling them to a roasting factory in a distant town. He had saved enough money for them to set up a small trade-store, selling the few goods that can be found in all such stores in Papua New Guinea: salt, cooking oil, soap ...

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Chapter 6. Going Public: Modern Wives, Men’s Infidelity, and Marriage in East-Central Uganda

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pp. 168-196

It was Isabella’s usually calm demeanor that made her public rampage against her husband and his lover compelling gossip.1 After hearing news that her husband would be taking his lover to Kasokoso (the outdoor drinking area in Iganga Town), Isabella had decided it would be a perfect opportunity to catch the couple “red-handed,” a phrase popularized by Uganda’s tabloid media to refer to catching ...

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Conclusion: “World Enough and Time”: Navigating Opportunities and Risks in the Landscape of Desire

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pp. 197-220

As we discussed in Chapter 1, sociocultural anthropology has been deeply ambivalent about the project of comparison for at least twenty years.1 On the one hand, most anthropologists engage in informal comparative discourse all the time— juxtaposing case studies from different regions in order to illustrate analytical points to students, reading deeply into other regional literatures in order to seek ...

Appendix I. Table of Methodologies

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pp. 221-227

Appendix II. Marital Case Study Interview Field Guides

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pp. 228-242

Appendix III. Detailed Listing of Plans for Participant Observation, High-Priority Locations

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pp. 243-252


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pp. 253-264


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pp. 265-286


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pp. 287-301

E-ISBN-13: 9780826516848
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826516824
Print-ISBN-10: 0826516823

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 592756260
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Secret

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Marriage -- Cross-cultural studies.
  • Adultery -- Cross-cultural studies.
  • Marital conflict -- Cross-cultural studies.
  • Husbands -- Sexual behavior -- Cross-cultural studies.
  • HIV infections -- Cross-cultural studies.
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