"Macho Men Don't Communicate": The Role of Communication in HIV Prevention

Article excerpt

The geographical nature of Puerto Rico as an island presents unique intricacies that need to be considered in research. While there are many studies of sexuality that include Puerto Rican men, most of these studies include groups of Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. mainland, where acculturation is a significant factor and the realities of people living in Puerto Rico are not fully addressed. In the present study, the relational and cultural issues that influence men's sexual communication and sexual practices in Puerto Rico were examined. Attention was given to the everyday realities of men in their personal relationships, thus allowing for culturally based understandings of interpersonal communication about sex, heterosexual relationships, and sexual practices. By treating sex as a communicative form, the interpersonal dynamics that significantly influence and determine the kinds of sexual communication within cultural gender roles for Puerto Rican men were highlighted. Overall, according to the Puerto Rican men in this study, the ability to have meaningful communication about sex and take recommended precautions for safe sex (i.e., monogamy, discussion of previous sexual partners, and condom use) is limited.

Gender Roles: The Intersection of Culture and Communication in Sexual Relationships

Sexual behavior is symbolic. Humans learn sexuality. As individuals we learn what kind of sexual creatures we are as we learn gender roles and acquire cultural guidelines regarding such elements of sexuality as desirability, courtship, foreplay, and sexual positions (Middleton, 2002). While humans are inherently sexual due to a biological imperative to reproduce, cultural learning directly influences how we go about reproduction: where, when, how often, with whom, and why (Kimmel & Fracher, 1992). The influence of culture on sex cannot be discounted, as the "enculturation process is a powerful one, and individuals do not easily cast off its effects" (Middleton, p. 38). From this viewpoint, culture can be approached as a fundamental component of sex, rather than as a variable that influences sexual behavior.

In this research project culture was not merely a variable to be singled out and studied; rather, it is an inextricable part of interpersonal communication, sexual relationships, and relational processes. Fundamental components of machismo are the enactment of macho behavior and the talk that serves to (re)enforce male genders roles, which, for the most part, are accomplished through communication acts. Macho talk is essential to establish and maintain Latino masculinity (Stavans, 1996).

Given Puerto Rico's geographical location, understanding the sexual beliefs and practices of people in the Caribbean is important. In a comprehensive study of Caribbean sexual practices, Camara (2000) found that it is socially acceptable for men to have multiple concurrent partnerships, supported by the fact that sex is viewed as independent of stable relationships, marriage, and love. Furthermore, "there is poor partner communication on sexual needs and concerns, emotional and socioeconomic dependence [females] and male dominance during the sexual act" (p. 19). Island life influences sexual practices and relationships. As one 48-year-old participant in this current study noted, "Puerto Rico is a small island and a small society and many times when a person says that he or she had a romantic relationship with someone else, the new [partner] will know the previous one, or will know someone that knows her and that could cause problems, that's my experience."

Puerto Ricans, while diverse, do share with other Latino groups some core cultural ideals that shape and are shaped by gender. Social expectations for Latino men are reflected in the cultural belief of machismo, which prescribes specific, culturally acceptable male behaviors. Some positive inner qualities associated with machismo are "personal integrity, commitment, loyalty, and most importantly, strength of character" (Mirande, 1997, p. …