Sexual Behavior and HIV/AIDS in Europe: Comparisons of National Surveys

By Michel Hubert; Nathalie Bajos et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 8

Sexual Adaptation to HIV Risk

Danièle Peto, Philippe Huynen and Nathalie Bajos

Introduction

The concept of adapting to HIV risk (Peto et al., 1992) emphasizes the diversity of reactions (be they effective or not from the preventive standpoint) that the AIDS epidemic has triggered in the population. These reactions include abstaining temporarily from sex, selecting or avoiding certain partners or meeting places, testing partners before sexual relations, using the condom, talking about the partner’s sexual past, and taking an HIV antibody test to reassure oneself and/or permit oneself to continue a certain sexual lifestyle. Taking account of the diversity of reactions to HIV risk is important on more than one score. Not only does such an approach reveal that the condom is far from the only means people use to cope with the risk of the sexual transmission of HIV, it also enables researchers to understand better the roles occupied by other means, such as HIV testing, for the situation is not cut and dry. The various ways of adapting to HIV risk combine different means in varying proportions and derive from various types of logic. 1 Protecting one’s health, which means ultimately one’s life, is not necessarily the predominant rationale behind an individual’s behaviour. Nor is it necessarily the most decisive one. For example, an ‘affective logic’ may be more predominant for people who are living alone and have been looking for affection and love for months: some of these people may be reluctant to ask that a condom be used, fearing that such a request might cause their prospective partners to leave. A ‘separate worlds’ logic, for example, establishes a boundary between the circle of familiars to which one belongs—and in which relations are usually based on trust and the condom is rarely used—and the rest of the world, which is perceived as uncertain and thus dangerous, in which relationships are based more on wariness, and where the condom is more of a must. The absence of precautions may also be explained by, among other things, a logic of ‘trust’ (partners’ exclusive love for each other often has problems accommodating the possibility of risk) or the conscious, shared acceptance of a certain degree

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