"Macho Men and Passive Women": Debunking Myths about the Sexualities of Latinos
Asencio, Marysol, Acosta, Katie, Conscience
Any investigation into the many factors that shape Latinos' sexualities presents significant problems. For a start, the pan-ethnic or supra-ethnic label of Latino itself can obscure the tremendous diversity found within the population. Latinos include people who have recently arrived and those whose histories of living in what is now the continental U.S. span over 500 years. Many additional factors add to this population's diversity and complexity, such as national origin, socioeconomic conditions, geographical location, residence status (including citizenship), political histories, racial identification, languages other than Spanish, dialects, sexual orientations, circular migration and level of transnationalism. There are significant ideological conflicts among Latinos as well as within the views of many individuals. There are feminist and non-feminist perspectives. There are democratic and undemocratic stances. There is the subverting of cultural ideologies. Latinos vary in the types of organizations, political affiliations and leaders that they support. These conflicts are not due to assimilation in U.S. society. They exist within communities in Latin America and many have roots not connected to social movements in the United States. In addition, there are personal, internal conflicts between what Latinos are told by leaders that they should do and what they believe is right for themselves, their families or the community at large. These and other factors are often not taken into account in the majority of studies on Latino sexual behaviors. In recent years, however, we have seen important contributions on certain aspects of Latino sexualities, by a handful of dedicated scholars that need to be recognized and enhanced.
Having set out the many problems with this area of study, let's try to see what we can know.
Mexican Americans, by virtue of being the largest Latino ethnic group, tend to be the focus of most of the limited research, followed by Puerto Ricans and Cubans--leaving us with even less knowledge about other Latino groups. Moreover, there is a significant population of Latinos who are predominantly or solely Spanish speakers; in many studies, they are excluded because of the language limitations of the researchers or a lack of the resources necessary to engage this population. Therefore, the experiences of recent immigrants or those who are not English-competent are less researched than those of others. There is also a challenge in effectively translating the norms, concepts and ideas taken from English and applying them to Latino cultures and language groups.
While the HIV/AID S epidemic has illustrated and propelled the need for social and behavioral research on Latino sexualities, the focus of the research has been limited. The research is focused on health-related concerns and on "at-risk" populations. Thus, there is increased sexuality research on Latino men who have sex with men, because of their heightened HIV risk. Family planning research involving primarily heterosexual Latinas (with few heterosexual males in the samples and rarely couples) has also been limited in scope and issues addressed. Within the family planning literature, Latinas have been described as not being "effective contraceptors" and as being less likely to use condoms and contraception than white non-Latinas. They are also described as less knowledgeable and communicative about sexuality. Census data show Latinas are likely to have more children than white non-Latinas. While there is less research on heterosexual Latino males' use of contraception and sexual decision-making, the current findings tend to show less use of condoms than among white non-Latino males. One has to keep in mind that researchers frame questions in ways that may be extensions of bias and stereotype or may simplify complex sexual dynamics and decision-making. There is also a correlation between poverty and lack of contraceptive use that is based not on cultural issues but on issues of economics, education, health care and information. …