Perceptions of Heterosexual African American Males' High-Risk Sex Behaviors

By Thompson-Robinson, Melva; Weaver, Mike et al. | International Journal of Men's Health, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview
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Perceptions of Heterosexual African American Males' High-Risk Sex Behaviors

Thompson-Robinson, Melva, Weaver, Mike, Shegog, Marya, Richter, Donna, Usdan, Stuart, Saunders, Ruth, International Journal of Men's Health

African American heterosexual men's perceptions of HIV/AIDS risks has not been well explored. This study's objectives were to gain insight into how heterosexual African American men's unsafe sexual behavior may place them at higher risk for HIV and sexually transmitted infections. Sexually active, heterosexual African American men (N = 57) participated in semi-structured focus group discussions. Themes were identified to assess the men's responses regarding high-risk sex practices and cultural influences. The results highlight risk behaviors and cultural influences. Understanding these men's risky sex behaviors and their culture can assist researchers to develop more effective HIV and STI interventions.

Keywords: HIV risk, African American males, sexual behavior


HIV/AIDS cases are occurring in alarming rates among African Americans. For example, between 2001 and 2004, among the 33 states in the U.S. reporting HIV data in addition to AIDS data, 12,426 African American males reported exposure to HIV through heterosexual contact compared to 23,777 African American females. In 2004, African American females accounted for 64% of reported HIV cases. For African American females between the ages of 25 and 34, AIDS has become the leading cause of death in 2002. It is also one of the top three causes of death for African American males 25 to 54 years (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006).

As the face of the AIDS epidemic throughout the southeastern United States has become increasingly nonwhite and heterosexual (Southern State AIDS/STD Directors Work Group, 2003), very little is known regarding the high risk of sex behaviors and cultural influences of heterosexual African American males. Researchers have examined the status of African male/female relationships (Brewer, 1995; McAdoo, 1998; Wilson, 1985), but studies of the HIV risk among heterosexual African American males have been limited.

Regarding high-risk sex behaviors, one researcher posited that younger African American males showed more "braggadocio" particularly in regards to sexual conquests and control (Whitehead, 1997). As African American males grow older, they tend to adopt different views of masculinity than do Caucasian males (Harris, Torres, & Allender, 1994). Given the rising rates of HIV among African American women due to heterosexual contact, it is necessary to understand factors that influence the sexual risk behaviors of African American men. This information may help to provide interventions that ultimately reduce HIV among African American men and women.

For the purpose of this research, high-risk sex behaviors are defined as having multiple sex partners, little or no communication about HIV/AIDS with a sex partner, lack of condom usage, and not being tested for HIV. Studies with African American males have pointed to the necessity of sexual communication between partners to curtail high-risk sex behaviors (Billy & Tanfer, 1993; Grady & Tanfer, 1996; Jemmott & Jemmott, 1990; Zimmerman, Salem, & Maton, 1995). These studies advocate that research with heterosexual African American males regarding sexual relationships should integrate cultural influences as it relates to high-risk behaviors. Culture is the beliefs, systems of knowledge, and patterns of behavior shared by a group of people. Furthermore, cultural influences as reported in this research are the societal/environmental factors, which have a beating on the high-risk sex behaviors of African American males.

The present study examined perceptions of heterosexual African American males about high-risk sex behaviors and cultural influences. Specifically, the purpose of this exploratory research with heterosexual African American males was: 1) to gain insight as to why high-risk sexual practices take place and, 2) to determine how culture influences these sexual practices.



Nine focus groups were conducted in rural and urban locations in South Carolina and Georgia.

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