Choosing Unsafe Sex: AIDS-Risk Denial among Disadvantaged Women

By Elisa J. Sobo | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Romance and Finance

The common assumption that impoverished women engage in unprotected sex because of financial coercion and a lack of empowerment pervades a great deal of both popular and academic thinking about lower-income minority women and AIDS (cf. Kline et al. 1992; for examples of models that give economics a prime role see Carovano 1991; De La Cancela 1989; Ward 1993a; see also Campbell 1990; Worth 1989; regarding the political economy of STDs in general see Jones 1991). Deployed in certain contexts, assumption reveals and perpetuates racism and classism: it would never be used to explain sexual risk taking among white women belonging to the middle and upper classes. Politics notwithstanding, my research findings provide cause to question the assumed-tobe direct link between finance and romance. Findings suggest that innercity women often have unsafe sex for reasons that have less to do with money per se than with the cultural ideals for heterosexual relationships and gender roles that certain political-economic conditions associated with capitalism help generate (regarding the latter, see Sobo n.d.). This is because these ideals leave most women who believe in them emotionally and socially dependent on relationships with men; accordingly, they affect women's perceptions of risk such that unsafe sex seems a safe bet ( Sobo 1993a; cf. Kline et al. 1992).

Because materialist stereotypes are so pervasive, any discussion of women's social and emotional dependence on men must be preceded by an examination of the connection between money and love. Men's employment status and their attitudes about money do alter the ways that women evaluate them. But, as this chapter shows, most women do not perceive their own participation in condomless sex as purchased by men, nor do they generally see it as forced upon them by a need for men's money. Male cash aid to women in inner-city environments is unsteady at best. Further, the act of accepting resources from male sex partners can lead to exacerbated gender-related status inequities, which many women

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