Sexual Cultures and Migration in the Era of AIDS: Anthropological and Demographic Perspectives

By Gilbert Herdt | Go to book overview

1 Sexual Cultures and Population Movement: Implicationsfor AIDS/STDs

GILBERT HERDT


Introduction

The contributors to this volume have grappled with the fundamental observation that as people migrate, the rules of sexual behaviour change, opening new avenues for sexual encounter, but also exposing the person to enhanced risk of HIV and STDs. Human mobility in the era of AIDS has dramatically increased the potential for the spread of the HIV virus and other sexually transmitted diseases in populations around the world. AIDS/HIV is now the leading killer of persons between the ages of 25 and 44 in the United States and similar Western nations. It is the leading cause of adult death in many Third World countries. Since these years are crucial to fertility in humans, and are also the time of greatest aggregate human movement, there can be little doubt of the urgent need to gain an understanding of the interaction between migration and sexual risk in AIDS/STD epidemics. It is therefore not surprising that a group of anthropologists and demographers, colleagues from social epidemiology and the health sciences, should come together to discuss these urgent problems.

Three interconnected processes are relevant to current perspectives on human movement and sexual transition: first, the worldwide increase in human movement and mobility, leading people across the boundaries of their own group-- from rural to urban, urban to agrarian, or across national borders--into unknown sexual cultures; second, the historical emergence of sexual cultures and sub- cultures which create new contexts of behaviour, codes for sexual conduct, and networks for encounters between strangers, as in the dense urban society which gives rise to commercial sex; and third, the emergence of new sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV/AIDS, which have created sexual risks for immigrants. Unprecedented sexual education and prevention efforts are being undertaken in many of these areas to reduce the risk of infection. Nonetheless, a question of global politics and polities is arising as never before. There is a growing crisis of policies within and between countries: as refugees and migrants increase in number, and as these persons are often in their prime reproductive years, the possibility of disruption to sexual systems and reproductive behaviour increases.

Many symposia over the past few years have examined aspects of these issues and numerous books have taken up one or another of the issues embedded within

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