Monday, April 19, 2010
JAMAICA'S culture of multiple sexual partners which is epitomised in Beenie Man's Nuff Gal recording has contributed to the conundrum the country finds itself with regards to HIV.
More than 80 per cent of persons diagnosed with HIV reported having multiple sexual relations.
The 2008 Knowledge Attitude Practice and Behaviour Survey revealed that 76 per cent of males (from all population groups) aged 15 - 24 years reported having multiple sexual partners in the last 12 months. Men aged 25 - 49 years old were less likely to have multiple partners but also stood at 52 per cent.
In Nuff Gal, Beenie Man chants, "...the one burner business nah work again, 'cause one man fi have all 50 gal friend. If yu stop drink roots, start drink it again, 'yu haffi have the stamina fi service dem".
This situation is equally prevalent among heterosexual men as it is among men who have sex with men (MSM) and the legal and moral context within which gay men operate in Jamaica compounds their sexual behaviours and attitude.
"The reality is that, in our context, I don't see MSMs planning monogamous relationships. It is not that I am saying it is impossible, but due to the security risks you won't find a lot of men doing that," said a prominent businessman who is bisexual.
His statement supports the findings of a survey conducted by Dr Peter Figueroa, et al in 2008 which not only found that 31.8 per cent of MSMs surveyed were living with HIV, but that multiple partnerships were very common. The survey showed that 27.4 per cent of MSMs had two or more male partners in the past four weeks and 25. 9 per cent had one new male partner in the past four weeks.
"The social condition under which MSMs negotiate partners is different. There is absolutely nothing in the society that encourages healthy relationships, dating, spending time together, etc," said Jalna Broderick, prevention, treatment and care co-ordinator at Jamaica AIDS Support for Life.
"Few have stable places in which to live or have sex. There is pressure not to be seen with one specific person in case he becomes linked to or associated with that persona and therefore confirm questions about your sexuality."
The bisexual businessman also explained that "as Jamaican men, we have been brought up to believe that having many partners is a credential". The notion of having 'nuff gal' is also alive in the MSM community.
The survey done by Dr Figueroa and his team also revealed some other interesting data. Some 28.8 per cent of MSMs reported having had sexual relationships with at least one female partner in past four weeks; 15.9 per cent were living with a female sexual partner and 33.8 per cent had two or more female partners in the last 12 months.
According to Broderick, this is done mainly to deflect from social scrutiny. She noted that our society encourages men to have multiple sexual partners evidenced by some of the questions asked: 'How come mi neva see you wid no ooman?', 'Nuh time fi yu fi bring home a pickney now?'. She said being without a woman questions the man's masculinity and so rather than having that questioned they opt for relationships with women. On the other hand, she noted that some of the men involved with women are "genuinely bisexual and really and truly want both men and women".
It is against this background that experts in the field have been lobbying for the decriminalisation of buggery. It is clear from the data that significant portions of MSMs are also having sex with women. It is also clear that the rate of HIV infection among men is much higher than the national average of 1.8 per cent. Unless steps are taken to lower the rate of infection among MSMs, then it is logical that the national average will not be reduced.
Another key finding of the survey was that condom use among the MSM population was low compared to heterosexual males. Condom use among MSMs was at 30 per cent below that of the national average where condom use varies between 72 and 84 per cent for males.
You can send your questions or comments relating to HIV or related issues to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Eve for Life, C/O Jamaica Observer