Toward Improved Interpretation and Theory Building of African American Male Sexualities
Lewis, Linwood J., Kertzner, Robert M., The Journal of Sex Research
Significant growth in the study of human sexual behavior has occurred over the past 20 years, with a heavy emphasis on determinants of sexual risk behavior and with populations (e.g., self-identified gay men, men who have sex with men [MSM]) that have previously been neglected in sex research (Parker & Aggleton, 1999; Parker, Herdt, & Carballo, 1991). Several populations disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic including ethnic minority heterosexual women have formed the central focus of this growth and have been the subject of an increasing body of research. However, heterosexual men in general and heterosexual African American men in particular have been largely neglected in this new growth of sexuality literature, with implications for public health, sexual health, and sexual science (Exner, Gardos, Seal, & Ehrhardt, 1999).
We take the position that an understanding of the range of male African American sexualities in a variety of contexts is important. We believe that tying together multiple behaviors and contexts into a conceptual whole for analysis and theory building should be the goal of sexual science in this domain. A social constructionist perspective informs our work in this area; we do not believe there is an essential African American sexuality if, as DeLamater and Hyde have described, essential sexuality is natural, universal, and biologically determined (DeLamater & Hyde, 1998). Rather, we believe that similarities in African American males' sexual lives are more likely due to similar social constructions and/or social experiences faced by African Americans in particular social and historical milieus.
It is important to note that the research literature concerning African American women's sexuality is sparse (Reid & Bing, 2000; Reid & Kelly, 1994), although advances have been made, particularly in exploration of women's conceptions of their own sexualities (e.g., Tolman, 1996, 2001). Many of the challenges for research about African American male sexualities therefore apply to research with African American women as well as other ethnic minority group members. We have chosen to focus our examination of these issues within the context of African American men's lives, while realizing that sexuality does occur for many African American men in the context of male-female relations.
CHALLENGES TO UNDERSTANDING AFRICAN AMERICAN MALE SEXUALITIES
From our reading of the sex research literature examining the sexual behavior of African American men and the critical literature concerning this work, we have synthesized five significant challenges to an understanding of African American male sexuality useful to sexual science research. These challenges are as follows: (a) incorrect assumptions of homogeneity of sexual behavior in African American men; (b) lack of appreciation of the dynamic nature of sexuality in general, thus assuming little developmental change in male African American sexuality across the lifespan; (c) a focus on description of behavior, ignoring contexts in which behavior must occur for African Americans (e.g., racism, high rates of HIV); (d) a focus on overt sexual behaviors (e.g., sexual debut, condom usage) as opposed to the meaning of sexual behaviors from the perspective of the actors; and (e) lack of a compelling theoretical grounding for African American sexuality in general.
Incorrect Assumptions of Homogeneity
Incorrect assumptions of homogeneity in behavior are a problem endemic to social science investigations of ethnic minorities in general, not just the study of African American sexuality (McLoyd & Randolph, 1985; Sue, 1999; Wyatt, 1994). The use of the term Black, a racial signifier, masks the range of diverse ethnic groups of African descent under one banner. It is necessary to define who we are talking about when we use such terms as Black or African American. We use the term African …
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Publication information: Article title: Toward Improved Interpretation and Theory Building of African American Male Sexualities. Contributors: Lewis, Linwood J. - Author, Kertzner, Robert M. - Author. Journal title: The Journal of Sex Research. Volume: 40. Issue: 4 Publication date: November 2003. Page number: 383+. © 2007 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.
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