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Am J Public Health. 2007 June; 97(6): 986–996.
PMCID: PMC1874214

The Inevitability of Infidelity: Sexual Reputation, Social Geographies, and Marital HIV Risk in Rural Mexico


Marriage presents the single greatest risk for HIV infection among women in rural Mexico. We drew on 6 months of participant observation, 20 marital case studies, 37 key informant interviews, and archival research to explore the factors that shape HIV risk among married women in one of the country’s rural communities. We found that culturally constructed notions of reputation in this community lead to sexual behavior designed to minimize men’s social risk (threats to one’s social status or relationships), rather than viral risk and that men’s desire for companionate intimacy may actually increase women’s risk for HIV infection. We also describe the intertwining of reputation-based sexual identities with structurally patterned sexual geographies (i.e. the social spaces that shape sexual behavior). We propose that, because of the structural nature of men’s extramarital sexual behavior, intervention development should concentrate on sexual geographies and risky spaces rather than risky behaviors or identities.

For a growing number of women in rural Mexico—and around the world—marital sex represents their single greatest risk for HIV infection.1 That women are infected by the very people with whom they are supposed to be having sex—indeed, according to social convention in Mexico, the only people with whom they are ever supposed to have sex—challenges existing approaches to HIV prevention. In this context, abstinence is impossible, unilateral monogamy is ineffective, and marital condom use is (as we have argued previously2) complicated by women’s deep, culturally supported commitment to the fiction of fidelity.

We sought to extend our previous work in Degollado (a small rural community in Mexico), which focused primarily on women’s perspectives, to a discussion of how social, cultural, and economic factors intertwine to shape married women’s risk of HIV infection. In rural Mexico, reputation is a critical aspect of sexual identity, and thus attention to socio-sexual reputations provides insight into why people act in ways that are socially safer but physically more risky. We also sought to describe the intersection of culturally constructed notions of reputation with structurally patterned sociosexual geographies—that is, that particular kinds of social spaces (bars, the main plaza, private trucks, transnational migrant communities in Atlanta) shape sexual behavior in important ways. Sexual geography calls attention to how sexual practices which would be shocking in one space are normal, and even expected, in another. Overall, our point is that extramarital sex, although typically portrayed (in Mexico and elsewhere) as a breach of social norms, is a fundamental if tacit dimension of gendered social organization rather than the product of individual moral failings or a breakdown in social rules.

The research described here focused on 1 of the sites involved in a 5-site comparative, ethnographic investigation funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development that explored the social organization of married women’s HIV risk. Our goal was to assess how men contribute to women’s HIV risk, going beyond the focus on ideological aspects of masculinity that characterizes current programmatic approaches which seek to improve women’s reproductive health by shifting norms of ideal masculinity.3 To do so, we relied on Connell’s idea of gender regimes as composed of the intersecting micro- and macrolevel domains of labor (who does what work, both domestically and in societies), power (microlevel decisionmaking as well as social, political, and military deployment of authority), and affect (socially constructed desires and the emotions that surround those desires).4

Our study lends support to Connell’s emphasis on affect as a critical aspect of gender, because we highlight the ways in which affect is a critical path through which gender inequality shapes risk. This point has been made previously in reference to women’s HIV risk denial5 but has not been made with regard to men. We also introduce the concept of extramarital opportunity structures, drawing on the sociological concept of opportunity structures to call attention to how extramarital sex is shaped by social, cultural, and economic forces.6 The intent of this construct is to emphasize how social structure shapes and constrains the options available to people.


Our study was conducted in Degollado, a town of approximately 15000 residents (although the actual population ebbs and flows with the patterns of seasonal migration between Mexico and the United States) situated in the semirural western Mexican state of Jalisco. Degollado’s main sources of income have traditionally been agriculture and migrant remittances7; however, the 2000 census indicates that the balance has tipped decisively away from agriculture, with only 30% of residents reporting agriculture as their main source of support, down from more than 90% in 1960.8 The area’s distorted age structure reflects the institutionalization of labor migration: 2000 census data showed that there were 702 men for every 1000 women in the 20- to 29-year age group, traditionally the peak age range for labor migration.9

The county seat, Degollado also has 2 banks, a number of schools including a high school, many small grocery stores, a central market, and 2 modern supermarkets, as well as a small private hospital, several Internet cafes, and a number of other local businesses. Recent attempts at local economic development include the opening of a clothing factory (which promised many more jobs than it has been able to offer10), planting of agave in response to worldwide increases in tequila consumption,11 and development of a regional stone carving industry.


Mexico’s HIV/AIDS epidemic is concentrated, with HIV prevalence rates of 0.3% in the general population and up to 15% in high-risk subpopulations.12 Of the approximately 160 000 adults with HIV at the end of 2003, two thirds were men believed to have been infected while having sex with another man13; consequently, the more recent “heterosexualization” of the epidemic is thought to be attributable to women becoming infected during sex with male partners who have sex with men.14

Rural Mexico, where gender ratios among those living with AIDS are lower than ratios in urban areas, is at the forefront of this heterosexualization. Rural women are thought to be at particularly high risk of marital transmission because of the high rates of labor migration from rural areas to the United States and the ways in which migration represents a risk factor for HIV infection, with migrants networking sexually among populations with higher HIV prevalence rates, having limited access to preventive or curative health services, and frequently dealing with the social isolation of the migrant experience by seeking comfort in sexual intimacy.15 One recent report put the percentage of migrants who are infected with HIV/AIDS at 1%, 3 times higher than the percentage among the general population.16 As reported by Sanchez et al., the 2 states with the highest rates of migration-related HIV infection (above 20%) in 2004 were Michoacan and Jalisco.17 Degollado sits on the border between these 2 states. Jalisco also has the third highest number of AIDS cases of any Mexican state.


Our data collection approach relied on participant observation, marital case studies, key informant interviews, and archival research. A summary of our approach, including the substantive topics addressed through each method, appears in Table 1 [triangle]. As can be seen, each method contributed distinctly to the triangulation that is so critical to ethnographic reliability.18 The social ties and understanding of local culture developed through 15 months of fieldwork on an earlier project conducted in this community allowed for much more rapid start-up than would normally be the case for community-based ethnographic research.19

Overview of Ethnographic Methods: Specific Contributions to Research Goals and Method-Specific Description of Sample: Degollado, Mexico, 2004

Sampling of Degollado residents as participants in the marital case studies, which were conducted between February and June of 2004, proceeded through the technique of systematic ethnographic sampling.20 In systematic ethnographic sampling, the idea of stratification is used to deliberately incorporate diversity into the small samples that are critical to the success of qualitative research. This approach represents one of the innovative methodological elements of the Love, Marriage and HIV multisite project, of which this study was a part. Neither qualitative research as generally practiced in public health nor research within the tradition of ethnography tends to employ such sampling principles.

If culture is conceptualized solely as a complex set of shared ideas that only can be explored through intensive, in-depth research with a necessarily small number of participants, then convenience sampling does not present a problem in terms of generalizability. Here, however, our theoretical framework explores how culture intertwines with social inequality to shape health practices. It was critical, therefore, to ensure that—despite the small sample—participants were selected to include diversity in terms of the elements of social organization that previous research had indicated were most likely to influence the heath practices of interest. As a result, across all 5 sites, our marital case study participants were selected to incorporate variation in (1) whether 1 member of the couple was currently or had been involved in labor migration, (2) whether (in comparison with other members of their community) the couple was well-off financially, and (3) whether couples were recently married, well established in their family-building projects, or already grandparents (Table 1 [triangle]).

Systematic ethnographic sampling reflected the present project’s theoretical framing at the intersection of cultural and political–economic perspectives. It also provided a framework allowing for cross-site exploration of differences and similarities in the ways in which factors such as labor migration or the life course shaped marital HIV risk across the study sites.

The final data set was comprised of field notes based on the participant observations of the 3 principal members of the research team and the transcribed interviews. J.S.H. read and coded the data using ATLAS.ti version 5.0 (ATLAS.ti Scientific Software Development, Berlin, Germany) with the goals of (1) developing complete descriptive data on circumstances, settings, reasons for, and local meanings of extramarital relations at the field site; (2) gaining an understanding of the association between the social organization of marriage and extramarital relationships; and (3) locating marital and extramarital relationships within a variety of broader social forces. The analyses presented here drew primarily on participant observations, on the marital case study interviews, and on key informant interviews. We used archival research to provide background on economic, demographic, and epidemiological contexts.

The 2 principal limitations of the research design were related to the fluidity of the population under study. First, our use of a single research site precluded fieldwork with men from Degollado who were living or working in the United States, making it impossible to explore how variations in the specific characteristics of migrant-receiving communities may shape risk.22 However, there were enough return migrants remaining in Degollado to provide some sense of what life is like al otro lado (“on the other side”). Second, our focus on married couples led to the exclusion of men and women whose marriage had ended as a result of conflict, which may have biased the sample toward those whose marriage was “successful” enough that they were willing to be subjected to the researchers’ gaze. The final sample, however, was quite diverse in terms of affective experiences: a number of the women wept while recounting their marital suffering, and one of the men, when asked how he felt about his spouse, replied that “the more I know my wife, the more I love my dog.”


Previous research, conducted primarily with women, has described an increasingly widespread, companionate marital ideal in which intimacy, communication, and sexual pleasure figure prominently as measures of a successful relationship.23 This companionate ideal frames women’s commitment to the appearance of fidelity and the denial of marital HIV risk within the broader goal of building a publicly successful relationship. However, the focus on women in this earlier work has left unanswered the questions of the extent to which men share this commitment to marital companionship and fidelity and, if they do, whether that has any influence on their extramarital sexual behavior.

In the interviews and case studies conducted in the spring of 2004, we found that young men across social classes share with their wives a marital ideal characterized by emotional intimacy, sexual pleasure, trust, and warmth, whereas men of older generations focus more on respect and fulfillment of gendered obligations. Emotional compatibility figured prominently in young men’s responses both as a reason to get married and as a characteristic of a successful marriage. As in the similar generational shift observed previously with women, the growing prominence of a companionate marital ideal among men does not mean that younger men love their wives more than their fathers did. Rather, the shift is more in the way that emotional intimacy, sexual pleasure, and personal satisfaction have gained prominence as goals in and of themselves as opposed to being byproducts of a life well lived.

Men’s feelings for their wives, although not the sole determinants of their extramarital sexual behavior, shape the cultural context of marital HIV risk in complex ways.24 For some, the love they have for their wives means that they would not be able to face them if they were unfaithful; for others, it merely means greater discretion so that their extramarital activities do not infringe on the companionate intimacy they are building with their wives. Ironically, this loving attention to appearances may actually increase married women’s risk of HIV infection.


Sexuality researchers working in the area of HIV/AIDS have used the axes of sexual identity most salient in Euro-American culture—object choice (gender of the object of one’s desire), emotion, and “transactionality” (i.e., whether sexual intercourse is gay or straight or for love or money)—as cultural universals; thus, even when object choice is not a locally meaningful identity category (such as was the initial intent of the “men who have sex with men” category), identity still becomes insistently transposed into a category that is ultimately about object choice. One of our major findings was the importance of reputation as a locally meaningful axis of sexual identity.25 People in Degollado almost invariably talked about their own or others’ social and sexual identities by using reputational categories. Men, for example, would refer to themselves as serio (serious), calmado (calm), or similar adjectives or as sinvergüenza (lacking in shame) or descarados (boldfaced); women would talk about themselves as recogida (under control) or volada (out of control).26

People invest in and draw from these sexual identities in gendered ways. When men resist the temptations of extramarital sex, they often talk about preserving their local reputations. One of our participants reported that he had never gone beyond flirting with the attractive young secretaries in his family business:

out of fear that someone would say “that guy is really looking for sex”; it would drag me into a really big problem—[someone would say] “hey, your husband is coming on to me.” More than anything, I avoid it so I don’t get burned. I definitely notice other women, but “pueblo chico, chisme grande” [“small town, big gossip”].27

This concern with reputation was expressed by manual laborers as well as the business owners for whom they worked and members of the town’s professional class.

Reputation is also considered a family characteristic, so women worry when their daughters marry the sons of notorious adulterers. A woman’s adultery constrains the marriageability of her children and shows profound disrespect for her husband. Moreover, one young man in our study attributed his recent slide into alcoholism to the humiliation of having the whole town know that his father had discovered his mother in bed with her lover. This young man’s peers agreed that trying to drink himself to death was the best response to his situation.

Men have a particularly complex task in regard to these sexual selves because they serve 2 contradictory functions: men build relationships with other men by demonstrating an assertive, competent, and sexually independent masculinity, but they also demonstrate their respect (and sometimes their love) for their wives through carefully maintaining the appearance of fidelity. There is a type of built-in symbolic tension for men in which succeeding too well at either extreme inherently means failing at the other.

During the course of our participant observations, we learned that a man does not provoke censure for a drunken fling, but he does for driving down the street in broad daylight accompanied by a woman other than his wife. As an example, mockery was heaped upon a prominent local businessman whose wife taped him having sex with his secretary in Chicago and then parlayed the video into a handsome divorce settlement in a US family court. This ridicule, certainly tinged with envy rooted in the man’s economic success, did not center around his having had a lover (many successful men do); rather, it involved his inability to manage his affairs: he should have known better than to bring his secretary into his home.

The aphorism hay que saber donde y con quien (“you have to know where and with whom”) goes to the heart of the reputational dimension of sexuality, and we organized the following 2 sections accordingly. We examined how this overriding concern with reputation as the central element of sexual identity was reflected in the study area’s local sexual geography (the “where”) and then explored the ways in which the cultural construction of risk intersects with reputation and sexual geography to shape partner choice (the “with whom”).


Men and women in rural Mexico preserve public face by navigating strategically through 2 parallel dimensions of the local sexual geography. Public, heterosocial spaces such as the central plaza and Sunday market form a sort of stage for the “performance” of men’s and women’s respectability.28 In contrast, in the semiprivate spaces in which men drink together, including cantinas, pool halls, table-dance bars, and liquor stores, men engage in a variety of sexual behaviors, secure in the knowledge that the town’s gossip networks do not extend back to their wives. Although not exclusively male, these spaces are known as places “where women do not go”—that is, where “decent” women do not go29—and when married men spend the evening visiting a brothel or a table-dance bar, they rely on the unspoken agreement that they will cover for each other.

One married man, remembering how his girlfriend would meet him at a local cantina, noted, “I would tell her to come meet me, but no one saw us, only the people in the cantina.” (There are no parallel spaces in which women can develop extramarital relationships with the full knowledge of their female friends.30) In contrast to these “unseen” meetings in the cantina, another one of our participants, Roberto,31 talked about his shock at a more public transgression:

When we were in the town of Huascato at a restaurant, I saw an uncle—he’s very well known here in town—come in with a friend of his and 2 women, and you know perfectly well, “There’s my uncle with a woman that is not my aunt.” I was with my mother, as well as my father, and without any shame [my uncle] goes and sits there and was drinking and joking with the girls, and you say to yourself, “How totally shameless, no?”

Rather than being a response to his uncle’s apparent infidelity, Roberto’s shock derived from the context, that is, the violation of the rules of the local sexual giography which dictates that men should not be seen in specific public places with their lovers.

Men’s patterns of movement—and therefore their access to the sexual geography’s risky spaces—differ quite sharply from women’s. These gendered patterns of mobility reflect the gendered organization of labor, which is related, in turn, to how these very concerns about sexual reputation have traditionally limited women’s physical mobility. Men’s greater physical mobility resulting from their jobs—manifested locally through their disproportionate access to horses, bicycles, cars, and other means of transport and internationally through their participation in labor migration—simultaneously justifies their journeys out of town and gives them money for extramarital sex while they are away.

The conceptual division of social space into a female casa (house) and a male calle (street), which is additional element of this sexual geography, is the cultural reflection of men’s historically greater access to economic opportunities; this access to disposable income (whether men spend it on commercial sex or on gifts for a girlfriend) combines with men’s physical mobility to create gender differences in opportunities for extramarital sex.32 This culturally meaningful gendered physical landscape, intricately intertwined with economic organization, is what we mean by extramarital opportunity structures.

Interviews and everyday conversations provided countless stories of men who took advantage of this mobility to seek extramarital sex, including a man who drove a highway delivery truck for his family’s business and reportedly knew every brothel along the way and a group of prominent businessmen from town who went together to Cuba on what was widely known to be a sexual tour. Another example is a US-based restaurateur who, during his long vacations in Degollado, took many trips to Guadalajara, supposedly to stock up on decorative handicrafts for his restaurants; however, these work-related responsibilities invariably provided cover for a trip to his favorite massage parlor.

International labor migration provides the most extreme illustration of how the gendered organization of labor intertwines with these concerns about reputation. It has been an overwhelmingly male practice because of the gendered demand for labor in the United States, gendered concerns about women’s sexual respectability, and gendered demands on men to support their families.33 Some couples do remain faithful over the course of long separations—one informant, giggling, recounted how a friend had told her about having regular “phone sex” with her husband during their migration-related separations—but men’s long absences lower the reputational risk of infidelity by ensuring that it occurs far away.34


Our participant observations, key informant interviews, and marital case studies all supported the fact that men quite commonly engage in extramarital sex with partners ranging from scarcely known women or men with whom they have casual sex for money to men who are friends and acquaintances and the wives of neighbors35 (Table 2 [triangle]). We describe how local forms of kinship facilitate men’s extramarital sex, how the importance of sexual reputation leads many men to seek socially safe sex rather than physically safe sex, and how the affective qualities of a marriage shape men’s risk behavior.

Descriptions of Men’s Extramarital Encounters in Rural Mexico: Love, Marriage, and HIV Study; Jalisco; 2004

How the Social Organization of Marriage Facilitates Men’s Extramarital Sex

One element of Mexican extramarital opportunity structures is the way in which the gendered division of domestic labor and a domesticity-oriented measure of feminine prestige facilitate men’s infidelities. A common explanation for infidelity given by men is that “if she doesn’t give it to me at home, I’ll get it in the street”; however, the gendered reward structure and the immediacy of children’s needs clearly push women to excel as mothers rather than lovers. Through simultaneous marital and extramarital relationships, a man can have 1 woman to raise his children and provide him with hot food and clean clothes and another (or several others) to provide pleasure and diversion.

Although women are increasingly employed in the formal labor market after marriage—most commonly in local commerce, as schoolteachers, or (more rarely) as professionals—parenting is still the central means through which women in rural Mexico gain social advancement and prestige and secure family relationships. Despite falling fertility, the labor of parenting has if anything intensified, and to present a respectable social face women, particularly those with young children, invest an inordinate amount of time in washing, ironing, bathing, and grooming their children. The frequency with which men spoke of feeling neglected by their wives reflects tensions between the all-consuming maternal career and emerging ideals of marital companionship.

The importance of women’s sexual respectability also contributes to men’s quest for sexual variety outside of marriage.36 A number of men noted that “if they wanted to eat beans (i.e., something wholesome, basic, and not particularly spicy), they could do it at home.” Traditionally in Mexico, men have feared that to stray too far from the missionary position will insult their wives, and women have feared that a willingness to engage in more varied sexual play will risk their status as a respectable woman of the home as opposed to a shameless woman of the street; this situation has led to men’s reliance on women other than their wives for sexual variety.

As demonstrated by the tables laden with thongs and lacy bras at the Sunday morning market—as well as by the number of young couples who reported viewing pornographic videos together—sexual variety has gained new respectability as part of the companionate ideal, with a consequent expansion in even a decent woman’s sexual repertoire.37 However, gendered ideals for women’s sexual respectability continue to form the backdrop for the extramarital pursuit of sexual variety among men whose marriages lack the confianza (trust) that would facilitate such variety.

The very centrality of marriage as a form of domestic organization also contributes to the pervasiveness of men’s extramarital sex. Ideologically, marriage is increasingly positioned as a structure for intimacy and self-realization; in actuality, however, many of the couples in this study had remained married despite the affective quality of their relationship rather than because of it. The woman whose husband quipped about preferring the company of the family dog, for example, responded tersely though no less acidly to the parallel question about how she felt about him by saying “I hate him.” Nonetheless, their marriage endured, as did many other equally unhappy ones, sustained not by love but by social convention, gendered economic opportunities, and gendered patterns of social reproduction; men and women may not necessarily like each other, but they need each other.

Men encapsulate the unshakable commitment they feel to their wives in the phrase es la madre de mis hijos (“she is the mother of my children”). To abandon their children’s mother for the pleasures of a lover would be to demonstrate publicly that they allowed emotion to get the better of them, that they did not know “where and when.” Our interviews and participant observations provided ample evidence of women who stay with their husbands because of economic security and the respectability conferred by being under the moral protection of a man. Moreover, in spite of the emergence of the companionate ideal, most women in these rural areas of Mexico still do not feel that mutual incompatibility justifies ending a marriage.38

Compulsory heterosexuality39 is another path through which the kinship system, of which marriage is a critical element, structures men’s engagement in extramarital sex. Marriage is a required step in the journey to being an adult, as well as a means through which men ensure their biological and social reproduction. Because in rural Mexico marriage is a requirement and not a choice, compulsory heterosexuality forces men who experience same-sex desires to marry and seek extramarital pleasure rather than assuming a public gay identity.40 As expressed by the saying “cualquier agujero, aunque sea caballero” (“any kind of hole, even if it’s a gentlemen’s”41), shared laughingly by a key informant as part of his explanation of why he never had trouble finding partners to play the insertive role in anal intercourse, the gender of a man’s extramarital partner is not necessarily a critical factor in his social identity.

Gendered social organization and traditional sexual cultures in rural Mexico intertwine to produce, simultaneously, great stress on compliance with gendered norms of self-presentation along with a certain degree of flexibility with regard to sexual object choice. As Carrillo and others have described,42 and as was supported by many conversations during our participant observations and interviews with key informants, traditional Mexican constructions of sexual and gender identity divide men who have sex with men into 2 categories: masculine-appearing activo (literally “active” but figuratively “insertive”) or feminine-appearing pasivo (literally “passive” but figuratively “receptive”).

In Degollado, we became acquainted with a number of feminine-appearing men who had a great number of sexual partners locally, many of them married men, some of whom paid them, some of whom they paid, and others with whom they had sexual intercourse in a context of short-lived romantic affectivity. We also observed masculine-appearing men in pursuit of these feminine-appearing men or, when drunk, in pursuit of each other. This sexual intercourse between men represented socially safe sex: a man could easily slip off to the cantina bathroom for casual sex, cruise the gay disco in neighboring La Piedad, or invite a male sex worker strolling in the plaza to take a late-night ride in his chrome-laden pickup, secure in the knowledge that this was a “low-risk” activity. Neither man would fall in love (supposedly), neither could get pregnant, and another man could certainly be trusted not to tell one’s wife.

Both masculine- and feminine-appearing men who enjoy sex with other men almost always marry, both for cover and for convenience. Sometimes they do so with the full knowledge of their partner; in other cases, these men’s preferences come as a surprise to their wives or remain unacknowledged. The “with whom,” then, can easily be another man, as long as men comply with the public demands of respectable rural masculinity: hat, boots, mustache, etc.

All of the men interviewed expressed concerns about marital transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which they saw as a failure of men’s responsibility to protect their families, expressed here as the inability to control viral or bacterial incursions into one’s domestic space. Esteban, for example, continues to suffer from remorse about having infected his wife with human papillomavirus.43 Indeed, he was so aware of the possible consequences of his infidelities that he talked at length about his simultaneous desire for an HIV test and his fear of what he might learn.

Marital disease transmission violates the central symbolic division of space in Mexican society—between the safe, ordered house and the dangerous, disordered street—and thus forces a couple to acknowledge those extramarital partnerships that reputational concerns dictate must not be discussed even within the privacy of the couple. It is this open acknowledgment, even more than the infidelity itself, that represents the breach of social expectations. Consequently, we saw in our participant observations how couples collude in maintaining appearances around men’s sexual behavior: women tell men not to be unfaithful, or they tell them that if they must be unfaithful, then do it in a way that will not humiliate them; men rotely deny their infidelities, regardless of their actual behavior, as part of being a good husband.

Social Safety and Physical Risk

Given the importance of public sexual selves, a major element shaping extramarital sex is the ease with which it can be hidden. Most of the men included in our marital case studies talked about deliberately seeking out women who did not pose a risk of emotional or economic entanglement so that there would be no leakage of this semiprivate behavior onto the public stage of reputation. A majority of rural Mexican men who engage in extramarital sex take great care to practice “safe sex,” not in terms of using a condom but in terms of being discreet: for them, the most visible risk is a contaminated reputation rather than a viral infection. Commercial sex is the central means through which men seek socially safe sex.44 Their view is that, despite the fact that commercial sex workers are people’s daughters, wives, and mothers, their reputation has already been ruined, and they can have sex with these women without running the risk of incurring the moral debt produced by having sex with a “nice girl.”

However, men overwhelmingly perceived STI risks as limited to women who charge for sex acts, and thus some did adopt a strategy for physically “safe sex,” limiting extramarital sex to women with whom they shared an affective tie. One migrant laborer recounted why he established a long-term connection with a lone woman during each of his nearly yearlong sojourns to the United States:

There are just things that freak you out. . . . For me, it’s those diseases. Let’s say that maybe you find someone attractive. As I was telling you, I never did that [had a one-night stand]. That is, if I was with someone, it was from the time I got there [arrived in the United States for his annual sojourn], but only with one [woman], so that if I got something, like gonorrhea or syphilis, well, I would know because I was healthy before. . . . With all the girls I took up with, I always talked with them, and we liked each other.

Love and HIV Risk

Given the fact that all of the men expressed a fear of STIs, why did only some report that this fear actually shaped their behavior? Love, we would argue, is the reason: men who expressed affection for their wives and who shared pleasurable companionship with them were much more likely to engage in extramarital sex with a commercial sex worker than with a girlfriend, whereas men with less emotionally and physically satisfying marriages were more likely to establish a long-term affective relationship with another woman.

Ironically, men’s commitment to ideologies of modern love may increase marital HIV risk: men who love their wives protect their feelings (although perhaps not their health) by choosing commercial sex. Given the overwhelming ways in which social, cultural, and economic factors intertwine to shape men’s access to extramarital sex, love alone is not quite enough to ensure fidelity. It does, however, shape how men respond to these extramarital opportunity structures.


Not all men engaged in extramarital sex; among those who did not, religion, social class, and masculine ideologies were critical influences. Religion (in this context Catholicism) promotes mutual fidelity through an emphasis on the moral value of sexual continence outside of marriage, the argument that marital sex is the only real form of physically, morally, and socially safe sex and the idea that condoms are unreliable (which we heard from several local religious figures). Religion also shapes behavior institutionally: the Christian Family Movement, for example, not only teaches participants about the value of physically and spiritually satisfying marital sex but also provides an alternative set of social spaces (such as potluck dinners) through which movement members can enjoy couple-oriented heterosociality.

Social class forms a key part of the terrain that enables some men to avoid extramarital sex. Extramarital sex was not confined to the less educated and wealthy men in our sample, but there were certainly more professional and property-owning men who were faithful to their wives.45 Extramarital sex functions, among other things, as a strategy through which men build relationships with other men. Not surprisingly, men with greater social and economic resources were less in need of whatever resources they might secure through these masculine relationships, and thus on the whole they were less likely to engage in these infidelity-facilitating patterns of homosociality.

Moreover, middle-class and upper-middle-class couples have access to material foundations for conjugal heterosociality that provide alternatives to cantinas and billiard halls. Through our participant observations, we gained insight into how the social fabric of middle- and upper-class life facilitates fidelity: larger houses, smaller families, and private cars enable members of the middle and upper classes to host gatherings of like-minded friends and to partake of couple- and family-type activities such as dining out on Sundays, making trips to the movies or visits to a zoo, or even taking an annual beach vacation. Elite women also have servants on whom they rely for laundry, ironing, cooking, housework, and child care, thus facilitating the simultaneous production of well-groomed children, well-kept houses, and sexually satisfied husbands.

The third element that decreases men’s risk is cultural rather than social: men who do not engage in extramarital sex are more likely to embrace a self-consciously modern masculinity. Others have discussed how Mexican ideals of manhood are subject to dissension and internal critique,46 and here we would add that men who are faithful articulate an encompassing vision of themselves as family men and the partners of their wives. This is an assertion not just of an affective and sexual companionship but of a partnership based on a deep knowledge of one’s partner’s true self. Rather than focusing on presenting a deftly packaged public sexual self to their wives, these men insist on a seamlessness between their sexual reputation and their inner self that precludes the possibility of hidden sexual indiscretions.

Public health efforts to encourage such family-oriented masculinity would be redundant, in that this form of masculinity is already being promoted by marketing and the media. Men who talk about fidelity as a crucial element of their modern masculinity might appear to be cultural innovators, but they are simply availing themselves of locally available discourses about modern masculinity in constructing an alternative masculinity. Even a cursory glance at the media environment in which people navigate suggests that men in rural Mexico are surrounded by images of alternative masculinity: a glowing father with his small child on the cover of Padres (Parenting) magazine emphasizes the intertwining of attentive fatherhood and success in consumer society, as does the extensive coverage of Father’s Day in the regional newspaper.47 Although few men in Degollado go to the extreme of changing diapers in their performance of modern masculinity, this style is clearly part of the local cultural lexicon, and men may find it attractive as a strategy for a type of symbolic social mobility when more material routes are less accessible.48


The reputational dimension of sexual identity has implications both for HIV prevention locally and for the framing of prevention programs more broadly. First, given the ways in which men are expected to manage their extramarital sexuality, a man who infects his wife is likely to be the subject of scorn. It might seem that a solution would be to frame HIV prevention messages around men’s responsibility to protect their wives. Public silence, however, has been a crucial strategy through which men protect their wives from the social risks of infidelity, and so creating effective community-based dialogues about marital HIV risk faces the formidable challenge of how to raise the issue, as it were, without breaking the silence.

Second, we must take social risk seriously, remembering that the individuals we aim to reach with our prevention programs do not necessarily have maximization of their own individual health as their foremost goal. The intersection of sexual geography and reputation means that a husband’s love for his wife may increase her risk by leading him to seek out relatively higher risk partners. Love and a shared desire to keep up appearances shape both partners’ commitment to denying that risk. Local constructions of sexual risk have much more to do with reputation than disease; at the moment, the social risk of sexual intercourse feels much more real to people in Degollado than does the HIV risk (although this perception may change as the epidemic takes shape locally), and they behave accordingly.

Third, we should consider grounding community-based HIV prevention programs in this notion of sexual geography. Just as the first major anthropological critique of HIV research called attention to risky acts, not risky people, here we are saying that it is time to go beyond an overly individualistic emphasis on preventing risky acts and consider the utility of working in risky spaces. The intersections of socially shaped sexual geography and culturally constructed notions of reputation and risk form a set of local extramarital opportunity structures within which it becomes possible to gain an understanding of the processes that result in most men in this specific context being likely to engage in extramarital sex. Using the idea of sexual geography would mean constructing contextually specific maps of risky spaces and developing spatially specific interventions to modify risks.

Fourth, the concept of externalities—a cost of the production process for which neither the consumer nor the producer pays—can help us link our own patterns of consumption, global reliance on migrant labor, and marital HIV risk. Both this article and the others in this issue from the same project49 highlight labor migration as a critical element of extramarital opportunity structures; marital HIV risk is an externality of the use of migrant labor, just as surely as carbon dioxide is an externality not yet accounted for by the low cost of incandescent bulbs. The gold wedding band made with ore extracted by Huli miners increases Huli women’s HIV risk, just as the burrito produced by Mexican migrant labor in California and served by Mexican workers in New York increases the risk for women in rural Puebla or Michoacán. The borders that separate those who benefit from these unmeasured costs and those who bear their burden make it challenging to conceive of how to ameliorate this situation, but consumers should consider that the low prices of goods produced through migrant labor contribute to global health inequities.

Fifth and finally, we have highlighted the structure of men’s extramarital sex, emphasizing the inadequacy of strategies that focus on changing individual behaviors and promoting marital fidelity. It may be possible to achieve reductions in the number or frequency of men’s extramarital partnerships; however, given the complex and intertwined types of support for such behavior, merely telling men to decrease their extramarital sexual activities is unlikely to be successful.

Short of interventions that propose to reduce men’s access to extramarital sex through a major feminist transformation, we argue for taking a harm reduction approach to extramarital sex through a major feminist transformation. Regardless of what these extramarital passions and peccadilloes might look like to us—whether from a feminist or a Christian fundamentalist standpoint—we suggest that they are a deeply rooted aspect of social organization. As a consequence, rather than funding interventions that satisfy our own moral sensibilities, we should consider structural interventions designed to reduce the likelihood that existing patterns of behavior will serve as the conduits through which the HIV epidemic will continue to grow.


We gratefully acknowledge support from the National Institutes of Health (grant R01 HD0411724), from the Emory AIDS International Training and Research Center (grant 1 D43 TW001042-06), and from the Center for Gender, Sexuality and Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

The authors would like to thank other members of the Love, Marriage and HIV team (especially Constance Nathanson, Daniel Smith, Harriet Phinney, Shanti Parikh, and Holly Wardlow) for their feedback and intellectual companionship throughout the duration of this project, as well as colleagues in the Department of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University and at the HIV Center for Behavioral and Clinical Studies who provided comments and suggestions along the way. Ellen Stiefvater provided superb research support throughout the writing of this article.


Peer Reviewed

J. S. Hirsch originated the study, supervised all aspects of its implementation, conducted interviews with the married female respondents, conducted the formal data analysis, and drafted the article. S. Meneses conducted fieldwork with the male respondents, contributed substantially to the preliminary data analysis, and commented on drafts of the article. B. Thompson conducted interviews with adolescent girls, contributed to the preliminary data analysis, and commented on drafts of the article. M. Negroni and B. Pelcastre provided institutional support in Mexico, contributed to the preliminary data analysis, and commented on drafts of the article. C. del Rio provided scientific and professional mentor-ship during the development of the initial grant proposal as well as throughout the fieldwork and analysis and commented on drafts of the article.


1. Pan American Health Organization. “Fact Sheet: Gender and HIV/AIDS,” http://www.paho.org/english/hdp/hdw/GenderandHIVFactSheetI.pdf; Sabin Russell, “Inequality Called Key in AIDS Gender Gap: UN Official Urges Empowerment of World’s Women,” San Francisco Chronicle (March 10, 2004): A4; “Gender Dimensions of HIV/AIDS in India,” in Summaries of Community-based Research on the Gender Dimensions of HIV/AIDS (New York: United Nations Development Fund for Women, 2001); Women and HIV/AIDS: Confronting the Crisis (New York: Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, United Nations Population Fund, and United Nations Development Fund for Women, 2004); Young People and HIV/AIDS: Opportunity in Crisis (New York: United Nations Children’s Fund, 2002); J. R. Glynn et al., “HIV Risk in Relation to Marriage in Areas With High Prevalence of HIV Infection,” Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes 33 (2003): 526–535; J. R. Glynn et al., “Why Do Young Women Have a Much Higher Prevalence of HIV Than Young Men? A Study in Kisumu, Kenya and Ndola, Zambia,” Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes 15 (suppl. 4, 2001): S51–S60.
2. Hirsch J. et al., “The Social Constructions of Sexuality: Marital Infidelity and Sexually Transmitted Disease-HIV Risk in a Mexican Migrant Community,” American Journal of Public Health 92, no. 8 (2002): 1227–1237; Daniel Smith, “Love and the Risk of HIV: Courtship, Marriage and Infidelity in Southeastern Nigeria,” in Jennifer Hirsch and Holly Wardlow, eds., Modern Loves: The Anthropology of Romantic Courtship and Companionate Marriage (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006); “HIV/AIDS Risk for Married Women,” paper presented at the 133rd Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association, December 2005, Philadelphia, PA; J. S. Hirsch, “‘You Get Tired of Eating Beans Every Day’: Social, Cultural and Economic Aspects of Married Women’s HIV Risk in Rural Mexico,” paper presented at the 133rd Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association, December 2005, Philadelphia, PA; H. M. Phinney and Minh Huu Nguyen, “‘Rice Is Essential but Tiresome, You Should Get Some Noodles’: Social, Cultural and Economic Aspects of Married Women’s HIV Risk in Hanoi, Viet Nam,” paper presented at the 133rd Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association, December 2005, Philadelphia, PA; D. J. Smith, “Modern Marriage, Extramarital Sex, and HIV Risk in Southeastern Nigeria,” paper presented at the 133rd Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association, December 2005, Philadelphia, PA; S. Parikh, “‘Be Faithful’: Cultural, Social, and Economic Contradictions of the ABC Message and Married Women’s HIV Risk in Uganda,” paper presented at the 133rd Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association, December 2005, Philadelphia, PA; H. Wardlow, “‘There Is Nothing to Fence Us In’: Men’s Extramarital Sex and Married Women’s HIV Risk in Rural Papua New Guinea,” paper presented at the 133rd Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association, December 2005, Philadelphia, PA.
3. “Promoting Healthy Relationships and HIV/STI Prevention for Young Men: Positive Findings from an Intervention Study in Brazil,” in Horizons Research Update (Washington, DC: Population Council, April 2004); J. Pulerwitz, G. Barker, and M. Segundo, “Measuring Gender Equitability Among Men,” paper presented at the Reaching Men for the Reproductive Health of All Conference, September 2003, Dulles, VA; “Young Men and HIV Prevention,” in Horizons Report (Washington, DC: Population Council, 2004).
4. Connell R. W., Gender and Power: Society, the Person, and Sexual Politics (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1987); R. W. Connell, Masculinities (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995).
5. Elisa J. Sobo, Choosing Unsafe Sex: AIDS Risk Denial Among Disadvantaged Women (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995); Hirsch et al., “The Social Constructions of Sexuality.”
6. We credit Constance Nathanson for coining this phrase.
7. See Hirsch Jennifer, A Courtship after Marriage: Sexuality and Love in Mexican Transnational Families (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003).
8. Instituto Nacional de Estadistica, Geografia E Informatica (INEGI), “Working Population by County, Sex and Primary Occupation, http://www.inegi.gob.mx (accessed February 13, 2006); Instituto Nacional de Estadistica, Geografia e Informatica, VII Censo General de Poblacion, 1960, Estado de Michoacan (Mexico City: Estados Unidos Mexicanos, 1960); “El Frijol Prode-dente de EU y Candada Inunda el Mercado Mexicano, a Pesar de que Aun No se Autorizan Cupos de Importacion,” Mural, Seccion A. Negocios (March 15, 2004): 1; “‘Impactan Reglas de EU a Productos Nacionales’: Hubo un Incremento de Importaciones de Maiz, Trigo, Frijoles, y Carne de Cerdo y Ave,” Mural, Seccion Negocios (May 10, 2004): 7A; “La Preferencia por Frutas y Hortalizas de USA y Chile en Mexico Esta Afectando a los Productores Mexicanos,” Mural, Seccion B. Comunidad (June 14, 2004): 5.
9. Instituto Nacional de Estadistica, Geografia E Informatica, “Total Population by County, Sex and Five Year Age Groups,” http://www.inegi.gob.mx (accessed February 13, 2006).
10. “La Secretaria de Turismo Promueve al Estado con Tasas que Llevan la Leyenda: ‘Jalisco es Mexico,’ pero las Tazas son Hechas en China,” Mural, Seccion A. Nacional (March 27, 2004): 1; “Los Productos Chinos Desplazan a los Productores Nacionales de Mexico,” Mural, Seccion A. Negocios (April 21, 2004): 6; “Mexican Handcrafts Are Produced in China and Expended as Poblanas in USA,” Mural, Seccion A Negocios (May 24, 2004): 3; “Recomiendan a las Empresas Mexicanas Reorientar su Mercado Exportador Hacia EU para Competir con los Productos Chinos,” Mural, Seccion A. Nacional (June 7, 2004): 1.
11. “La Falta de Integracion de las Cadenas Productivas Agroalimentarias Engarzan Desempleo,” Mural, Seccion Negocias (March 1, 2004): 8A.
12. Magis-Rodríguez C., E. Bravo-García, and P. Uribe-Zúñiga, Dos Décadas de la Epidemia del SIDA en México (Mexico City: Central Nacional de la Prevención y Control del SIDA; 2002).
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid.
15. Magis-Rodriguez C., C. Gayet, M. Negroni, R. Leyva, E. Bravo-Garcia, P. Uribe, and M. Bronfman, “Migration and AIDS in Mexico: An Overview Based on Recent Evidence,” Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes 37 (suppl. 4, 2004): S215–S226; M. A. Sanchez, G. F. Lemp, C. Magis-Rodríguez, E. Bravo-García, S. Carter, and J. Ruiz, “The Epidemiology of HIV Among Mexican Migrants and Recent Immigrants in California and Mexico,” Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes 37 (suppl. 4, 2004): S204–S214. [PubMed]
16. Angeles Cruz Martínez, “Tienen VIH 1 por Ciento de Migrantes: Censida,” La Jornada (November 23, 2005).
17. Sanchez et al., “The Epidemiology of HIV.”
18. Bernard H. R., Research Methods in Cultural Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches, 2nd ed. (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1994).
19. This earlier research had also made clear the necessity of having a man on the research team (see Hirsch, A Courtship after Marriage), and so the second member of the field team was a Mexican physician and medical anthropologist in his mid-20s, Sergio Meneses, who hails from a middle-class town in southern Mexico that is similar to Degollado in size and provincial tone. The third member of the team was Brenda Thompson, an American MPH student who was conducting a supplemental study on adolescent girls’ notions of sexuality and HIV risk. The team also counted on the assistance of 2 local helpers: Alan Lujambio, a well-respected, college-educated, recently married member of the town’s upper class, and Estela Mata, a mother of 7 who helped with the study when she was not working part-time cleaning at a local primary school. Lujambio and Mata provided entrée into their respective social worlds within the broader Degollado community; they also located prospective informants for the marital case histories, shared stories about notable cases of infidelity, and provided critical commentary on the vagaries of life in Degollado.
20. Hirsch, A Courtship after Marriage, 30–34.
21. Katherine A. Forrest et al., “Exploring Norms and Beliefs Related to AIDS Prevention Among California Hispanic Men,” Family Planning Perspectives 25 (1993): 111–117; Bruce Caldwell, “Barkate-Khuda The First Generation to Control Family Size: A Microstudy of the Causes of Fertility Decline in a Rural Area of Bangladesh,” Studies in Family Planning 31 (2000): 239–251; Sheri B. Kirshenbaum et al., “‘Throwing the Dice’: Pregnancy Decision-Making among HIV-Positive Women in Four U.S. Cities,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 36 (2004): 106–113; Sarah Castle, “Factors Influencing Young Malians’ Reluctance to Use Hormonal Contraceptives,” Studies in Family Planning 34 (2003): 186–199.
22. On the possible relevant dimensions of local variations in receiving contexts, see Caroline Brettell, “Bringing the City Back In: Cities as Contexts for Immigrant Incorporation,” in N. Foner, ed., American Arrivals: Anthropology Engages the New Immigration (Santa Fe: School for American Research Press, 2003), and J. S. Hirsch, “‘Que, Pues, con el Pinche NAFTA?: Gender, Power and Migration between Western Mexico and Atlanta,” Urban Anthropology 31 (2002): 351–387.
23. Hirsch et al., “The Social Constructions of Sexuality”; see also Hirsch and Wardlow, Modern Loves.
24. As described in the sections on reputation and in the final section, there are many factors other than marital affect that shape men’s participation in extramarital sex. Among the couples included in the marital case studies, for example, there were some older men who expressed little warmth and intimacy toward their wives but who nonetheless denied having had extramarital sex; these men refrained from extramarital sex out of a desire to demonstrate public respectability and restraint. Don Carlos (names are pseudonyms), for example, beat his wife Doña Esperanza quite severely in the early years of their marriage—at one point, she recounted that he might have killed her had her brother not intervened—but he also vigorously asserted that to have been unfaithful would have been to be no better than an animal.
25. This is described elsewhere in terms of public perceptions of adolescent sexual behavior (see Hirsch, A Courtship after Marriage, 95–111).
26. See Hirsch, A Courtship after Marriage, 100.
27. The comment “small town, big gossip” refers to a telenovela, Pueblo Chico, Infierno Grande” (small town, big hell), that focused on the scandals and suffering simmering just below the surface in small-town Mexico.
28. See Hirsch, A Courtship after Marriage, 95–102.
29. The disco is an exception to this rule: respectable young women do go to the disco, as long as they leave, for example, by 10 pm on a Sunday night (see Hirsch, A Courtship after Marriage); Brenda Thompson, “Protecting Your Image: An Ethnographic Look at Courtship and Sexuality From the Perspective of Muchachas in a Mexican Migrant-Sending Town” (master’s thesis, Emory University, 2005).
30. The fundamentally gendered nature of reputation is further underlined by gender differences in how women manage sexual gossip and the ways in which women deploy information against other women to their own advantage (see Thompson, “Protecting Your Image”).
31. All names are pseudonyms, and some details have been changed to prevent identification of informants.
32. Men’s economic power comes into play in other ways in cases such as that of our informant Juan, who sanguinely reported having taken advantage of the power he had over his young female factory employees to dole out work opportunities in exchange for sex.
33. At the heart of this association between mobility and sexual misbehavior is the belief that fear of gossip provides a crucial brake on bad behavior, and thus the opportunity to do things without harming one’s local reputation provides a temptation too great to resist. P. Hondagneu-Sotelo, Gendered Transitions: Mexican Experiences of Immigration (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994); Hirsch, A Courtship after Marriage; but see M. Cerruti and D. S. Massey, “On the Auspices of Female Migration from Mexico to the United States,” Demography 38 (2001): 187–200; Roberto Suro, “Survey of Mexican Migrants, Part One: Attitudes about Immigration and Major Demographic Characteristics,” http://pewhispanic.org/reports/report.php?ReportID=41 (accessed February 13, 2006).
34. International labor migration poses challenges to fidelity even for those who remain behind; that is, the distorted population structure creates an intense local competition for men, leading to many marriages of desperation among young women in their late 20s and creating a semipermanent pool of available young women, some of whom are all too willing to flirt with a married man in the hopes of stealing another woman’s husband (such women are typically referred to as “leftover women”). These marriages of desperation can be in and of themselves reasons that men end up seeking out extramarital sex: they are not always founded on deep emotional intimacy, but men can find this intimacy elsewhere through extramarital relationships.
35. We cannot answer the question of what approximate percentage of men in the study community engaged in this behavior because the goal of this type of research is to assess local forms and meanings of phenomena rather than their distribution; see J. Pulerwitz et al., “Extrarelational Sex Among Mexican Men and Their Partners’ Risk of HIV and Other Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” American Journal of Public Health 91 (2001): 1650. However, according to our observations, approximately half of the men with whom we spoke and got to know well—perhaps 50 in all—had engaged in extramarital sex. We focus here exclusively on men’s extramarital sexual behavior; we will address the behavior of married women, who also engage in extramarital sex despite the much higher reputational risks, in a subsequent article.
36. Although the norms regarding acceptable behavior for “decent” women have changed, the persistent classification of women into “those of the house” and “those of the street” also facilitates men’s access to extramarital sex by ensuring the availability of partners: a group of women who, having lost access to the resource of a good reputation, face limited options in terms of respectable partnerships, few moral opportunity costs to continued disrespectable behavior, and a solid local niche as a seller of sex. Once a woman’s reputation is sullied, there is virtually no social salvation (although women do, of course, manage to live satisfying lives in spite of these reputations). Women’s participation in transactional sex is often attributed to the plight of single mothers and women’s limited options for supporting their children, but what is less frequently traced out as part of this explanation is the way in which the ideals of womanhood constrain women’s relationship and economic options. A woman with a bad reputation is virtually unemployable as a domestic servant and is even undesirable as an employee in a family-owned business; thus, once a woman slips off the straight and narrow, she is virtually forced to specialize in being a bad woman. The virgin–whore dichotomy serves not only to scare women into preserving their sexual reputation but also to ensure a steady stream of women with whom men can transgress.
37. One of the veiled threats behind men’s requests for sexual variety—and the reason, perhaps, for Mariana’s comment that “you have to be willing to be a little bit of a whore for your husband”—is that women fear that if they do not hold their husband’s sexual attention through variety, men will look for it elsewhere. As reported by women, the main areas of focus of these increasingly common marital discussions in which men press their wives for more sexual variety and a more modern, intimate life are anal sex and fellatio. Many women reported that their husbands requested anal sex “to see what it feels like.” Given how common sex between men appeared to be, we suspect rather that many men already knew what it felt like and liked it. It is difficult to determine the extent to which anal sex was common in married couples, because most women did not want to provide such information. Oral sex, which was somewhat less contentious, seems to have moved clearly into the range of the permitted for younger couples (e.g., “After all, as long as they are well bathed, what’s wrong with it?”).
38. Demographic evidence bears out this point; divorce rates are increasing throughout Mexico, but rates in rural areas lag considerably behind those in urban areas (see “Mexico en Corto: Matrimonios y Divorcios en México,” http://www.inegi.gob.mx/inegi/contenidos/espanol/prensa/contenidos/estadisticas/2005/matrimonios05.pdf (accessed July 20, 2006.)
39. Rich Adrienne, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” in Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979–1985 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1986).
40. Residents of large urban centers such as Mexico City and Guadalajara can join growing communities of gay-identified men (and women), but these identities and communities barely exist at the local level. In fact, the level of discrimination in rural areas and provincial cities against men who are perceived to be homosexual has been recognized and is being addressed through a national HIV prevention program that frames gay rights as a critical element of effective HIV prevention. More information on the Mexican Program on HIV and Human Rights, including the media spots used in the campaign, is available on the Web site of the Mexican Commission on Human Rights, http://www.cndh.org.mx/progate/vihsida/vihsid2.htm (accessed March 12, 2007). See also Fátima Estrada Márquez, Carlos Magis Rodríguez, and Enrique Bravo Garcia, “Estigma y Discriminación en Hombres que Tienen Sexo con Hombres,” in Carlos Magis Rodríguez, Hermelinda Barrientos Bárcenas, and Stefano Michele Bertozzi Kenefick, eds., SIDA: Aspectos de Salud Publica, http://www.salud.gob.mx/conasida/otraspub/manualsida/cap08.pdf (accessed March 12, 2007).
41. Although this may strike the reader as a somewhat crude aphorism, the fact that it is widely known suggests that norms for talking about sex among men in rural Mexico assume a shared set of values about the value of pleasure-oriented sexual interactions, regardless of partner choice. For more on language as a critical lens for learning about social values, see Jennifer Hirsch, “Between the Missionaries’ Position and the Missionary Position: Mexican Dirty Jokes and the Public (Sub)Version of Sexuality,” Critical Matrix: Princeton Working Papers in Women’s Studies 5 (1990): 1–27, on Mexican scatological humor; see also Richard Parker, Bodies, Pleasures and Passions: Sexual Culture in Contemporary Brazil (Boston: Beacon Press, 1991), particularly the discussion of sacanagem, roughly translated as sexual misbehavior, in Brazil.
42. Carrillo Hector, “Cultural Change, Hybridity, and Male Homosexuality in Mexico,” Culture, Health, and Sexuality 1 (1999): 223–238; Hector Carrillo, The Night Is Young: Sexuality in Mexico in the Time of AIDS (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002); Gloria González-López, Erotic Journeys: Mexican Immigrants and Their Sex Lives (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005); J. M. Carrier, “Mexican Male Bisexuality,” Journal of Homosexuality 11 (1985): 75–85; J. M. Carrier, “Sexual Behavior and the Spread of AIDS in Mexico,” Medical Anthropology 10 (1989): 129–142.
43. This case was not only confirmed by his wife but commented on by several of our other informants, both male and female.
44. See also González-López, Erotic Journeys, 62–97.
45. Given the small number of marital case studies and the likelihood that individuals from this community will have access to published materials resulting from our study, it is not ethically possible to provide specific data stratified according to social class.
46. See, for example, Gutmann M. C., The Meanings of Macho: Being a Man in Mexico City (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).
47. One story, for example, admiringly reported on how a Mexican movie star bragged about staying up all night with his baby and—heroically—learning to distinguish between a healthy “poopy” diaper and diarrhea; see “Cumplen su Rol mas Padre!, Entrevistas Sobre la Experiencia de ser Padre en Primera Pagina,” Mural, Seccion D Gente (June 20, 2004): 1.
48. See Hirsch, A Courtship after Marriage, 147–156.
49. Wardlow Holly, “Men’s Extramarital Sexuality in Rural Papua New Guinea,” American Journal of Public Health 97 (2007): 1006–1014; Daniel Jordan Smith, “Modern Marriage, Men’s Extramarital Sex, and HIV Risk in Southeastern Nigeria,” American Journal of Public Health 97 (2007): 997–1006; Shanti A. Parikh, “The Political Economy of Marital HIV Risk in Uganda: The ABC Approach, Unintended Risk, and ‘Safe’ Infidelity,” American Journal of Public Health 97 (2007): In press.

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