'Turning Sex into a Game': Gogodala Men's Response to the AIDS Epidemic and Condom Promotion in Rural Papua New Guinea

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ABSTRACT

Rugby league is the national sport of Papua New Guinea and the game's huge popularity and international profile has been used in recent condom promotion campaigns in the nation's fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In this paper, I argue that the promotion of condom use through rugby league requires a national campaign strategy that includes understandings of condom use and masculinity at the rural level. I demonstrate this through a study of Gogodala men's understandings of the epidemic and condom use in Western Province. The Gogodala are a Christian-based society and many blame the national condom promotion strategy for an increase in promiscuity and for 'turning sex into a game'. Condom availability in this rural area continues to be restricted to a family planning program that promotes Christian values and excludes unmarried men. I explore the male condom dilemma where young men are more concerned with avoiding accusations that their sexual behaviour puts them at risk of contracting HIV despite acknowledging the preventative value of using condoms. In this context young men disassociate themselves from the disease and condom use through a process of calculated risk or risk minimisation.

Key words: sport, Christianity, condoms, masculinity, HIV/AIDS, Papua New Guinea.

INTRODUCTION

It is widely acknowledged that, when used properly, condoms provide the most available and effective form of biomedical intervention for preventing HIV transmission. Acknowledging this, Papua New Guinea has implemented a multi-sectoral approach to the HIV/AIDS epidemic based on a prevention policy known as the ABC strategy, which promotes the avoidance of sex before marriage, being faithful to one partner and the use of condoms. While the first two have broad support among Christian communities, the promotion of condom use has been widely debated, criticised and variously rejected throughout PNG. A growing literature has emerged illustrating a range of cultural barriers and negative attitudes toward condom use throughout the world including the notion that condoms promote promiscuity, are only meant for family planning purposes, cause a loss of sensation, are unreliable and often unavailable and signal a lack of trust in partners (Bond and Dover 1997; Campbell 2000; Jenkins 1997; Pinkerton and Abramson 1997; Willis 2003). (1) This paper contributes to this discourse through a study of Gogodala men's attitudes towards condom use in this remote and rural area of Western Province. The Gogodala live in a flood plain region of the Middle Fly District and are a predominantly Christian community that rejects condom use outside marriage and people are particularly worried that promoting them will spread the disease. This paper is concerned with the way young men try to avoid community criticism by publicly rejecting condom use outside marriage and asserting themselves within the local context of dala ela gi, the male way of life. One of the main ways young men disassociate themselves from the disease, for example, is to play rugby league as a way of demonstrating their strength and social worth.

Rugby league is the national sport of PNG and has an almost fanatical following throughout the country. Australian rugby league players are particularly assigned heroic status and competitions like the State of Origin series, between New South Wales and Queensland, and international matches between the countries are special occasions celebrated every year. Recognising this following, in September 2005 an Australian Prime Minister's XIII rugby league team played the Papua New Guinea national side, the Kumuls, in an exhibition match at Port Moresby as part of an Australian government Aus-AID funded campaign to spread awareness on HIV/AIDS education and violence against women. The PNG National AIDS Council also utilised the popularity of Brad Fittler, the Australian Rugby League Captain at the time, in a condom promotion campaign that included television coverage and poster distribution. …