Choosing Unsafe Sex: AIDS-Risk Denial among Disadvantaged Women

By Elisa J. Sobo | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
The Condom Use Project

My original research mission involved investigating the low efficacy of AIDS education in Cleveland's M&I clinics in order to improve it. My main aims were to find out why most clients neglected to comply with the safer-sex guidelines provided, and to identify the factors distinguishing the non-users from the few who did use condoms.1

It is folly to believe that education alone can halt the spread of AIDS (see Chapter 3). The constraints that sexism, racism, and other oppressions place on people's perception of AIDS risks and on their abilities to reduce these risks are immense. Vast social, cultural, and economic changes need to be made if we are actually going to stem the pandemic. Accordingly, this research helps clarify the nature of the social and cultural changes needed to enable women to avoid unsafe sex, and enhances our understanding of the cultural constructions of love, relationships, and self-concept -- constructions that have a great impact on the effects of AIDS education efforts.

The project was originally scheduled to last for one year. It used focus groups and interviews, and was funded by a grant from Cleveland's Community AIDS Partnership Project. Anticipating the importance of the findings, I applied to the Spring Foundation for Research on Women in Contemporary Society for a second grant. A second phase was initiated; this time questionnaires and interviews were used. All told, about 150 women participated in the research. Here I should note that, while AIDS is a growing problem among teens, legal and logistical considerations led me to limit this study to adults; that is, women under eighteen years of age were prohibited from participating. Age averages should be interpreted with this in mind.

The focus group discussions and preliminary interviews guided me to many of the AIDS-related themes most salient for the women, and the use of questionnaires enabled the collection of quantitative data. The final set of interviews provided the rich first-person narratives that form the

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