Urban Low-Income African American Men, HIV/AIDS, and Gender Identity

by Tony L. Whitehead

Dec 1, 1997

This article explores the sociocultural meanings attached to sexual behaviors and conceptions of masculinity among low-income African-American males. The author argues that HIV/AIDS prevention programs should incorporate strategies to help this population achieve a more healthy gender identity.
  • Some black women studied in Baltimore and Maryland pointed out that if they were to initiate condom use, men would assume they were promiscuous and/or diseased.
  • Some male study participants were found to value sexual prowess so highly that they would display it despite risking HIV/AIDS in the process.
  • Economic capacity is a component of male identity and sexual attractiveness in America. It is possible, therefore, that low-income males find their masculinity fragmented and exaggerate their sexual capacities to make up for this.
  • When asked to freely associate words with men and women, many study participants of both genders used the word "dog" for men, but only men viewed this as a positive descriptor.
  • Male empowerment should be part of an anti-AIDS effort. This would involve peer training, focus groups, and especially older black males as role models to help with gender maturation.