Motivations of low-income substance using heterosexual Black women in New York City for having multiple sexual partners are explored in this paper. Individual-level motivations for extra relational sex fell into four dominant themes: sexual pleasure, partner infidelity, sex exchange and past main partners. Using a Black feminist framework, we describe how participants displayed considerable autonomy by actively forming and withdrawing from sexual relationships with men. However, women described low rates of condom use with main partners and inconsistent use of condoms with more casual sexual partners.
This contradiction becomes an important area for sexual health interventions. Women who had sexual relations with only one current mate in the past two years were recruited as a monogamous comparison group. This qualitative paper will describe how a sample of low-income substance using Black women in New York City demonstrated contradictory empowerment in their sexual relationships with men: they were active in choosing varying types of male partners but had irregular patterns of condom use. This disjuncture is potentially a crucial location for sexual health intervention.
Black feminist thought will be used to interpret the meanings study participants gave to their sexual relationships. Black feminist thought also recognizes that race and racism contribute to experiences understood as common for Black women in the United States. In addition, it emphasizes the link between experiences and ideas and the ways in which action and thought construct one another. Finally, Black feminist thought acknowledges its relationship to other social justice movements Collins, This theory has the potential to inform this study of concurrent sexual partnerships among a sample of Black women because: it demonstrates the relevance of larger structural forces on the lives of study participants; allows for an analysis of the different meanings respondents gave to their varying sexual relationships; and makes possible linking these ideas and experiences to a broader sexual health movement.
Black women have historically been the target of racialized, stigmatizing stereotypes that continue to be reinforced in popular culture such as social media, hip hop music, videos Layne and more recently, reality TV shows Ford, These cultural images have served as justifications to discriminate against and discredit Black women, particularly those who are low-income as they bear the brunt of racial, gender and class biases. Recent studies of sexual risk among Black adults have focused on relationship status and transformations.
For example, Noar et al. Our research builds on this work by studying women with casual partners and main partners. There is a growing literature on Black men with concurrent female sex partners see, for example, Bowleg, ; Bowleg et al. In addition, Nunn et al. Data for this paper comes from in-depth interviews for a qualitative study of socialization and HIV risk among low-income, heterosexual, substance using women in New York City that was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Trained ethnographers recruited women 18 to 50 years old who self-identified as Black and heterosexual and had four or more lifetime sexual partners and at least two sexual partners in the two past years. Staff targeted neighborhoods known from previous research and conducted additional ethnographic mapping in all five boroughs of New York City. They went to various New York City Housing Authority housing developments and low-income neighborhoods, local social events, community centers and medical clinics, where they handed out fliers and spoke to residents about the study.
To be eligible for the study, participants also had to report illicit drug sales or use in the previous year, because one of our research aims was to examine how drug involvement contributes to HIV risk.
Study participants gave written informed consent and were asked to invent code names for themselves and for any sexual partners mentioned.
These names reflect the complexity of agency as they may appear to reproduce sexualized stereotypes of Black women. Respondents were not asked why they chose their particular code names and consequently the authors do not have data on the meanings these alternate names had for them.
We refrained from changing the aliases interviewees chose for themselves as that would replicate and contribute to the power imbalance between researcher and study participant. These baseline interviews consisted of questions and took two or more meetings to complete.
A total of 98 women were interviewed, data from in-depth interviews with 50 women form the basis of this paper. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed and entered into FileMaker Pro, a relational database program that the research team has used successfully to manage qualitative data. The phenomenological method was used to analyze qualitative data. This approach to research and analysis aims to describe and understand social phenomena from the perspectives of the individuals involved Groenewald, Its emphasis on meaning rather than constructing theory or proving a specific argument Flood, makes the phenomenological method appropriate for this paper on the meanings women gave to their sexual relationships.
These meaning units were short sections, about two or three lines in length Shaw, Burton, Xuereb. Using the case summaries as guides, the first author then organized respondents with concurrent sex partners into one category and then returned to transcripts and coded meaning units for motivations for multiple sex partners.
The second author coded transcripts for motivations and the authors met to discuss where codes aligned and did not align and codes were subsequently refined. Close analysis of the 50 transcripts selected for analysis revealed two main categories of concurrent intimate relationships:.
Because of space limitations and the scope of this paper, we do not include this group in the following analysis but will report findings on mutually monogamous interviewees in future publications.
What follows is an in-depth description of the fluidity and variation found in the above categories and how women were instrumental in forming, maintaining and ending their sexual relationships with men. Although some previous research suggests that urban Black women might be expected to uphold traditional gender roles and experience lack of power in their sexual relationships e.
Note that some women may fall into more than one motivational category. These relationships were deemed extra relational because primary male partners were told by participants that the relationship was monogamous or they assumed monogamy. These needs included material resources while desires reflected sexual fulfillment. Relationships with main sex partners ranged in duration from about one year to over ten.
Main partners were boyfriends in some cases live-in , husbands or something in between. In the case of year-old Bossy, her main sex partner was not her boyfriend. She considered Big Boy her boyfriend, or main partner, despite the fact that she had not had sex with him yet. Bossy used condoms with all of her sex partners.
Relationships with secondary sex partners were more casual because there was little or no expectation of commitment, at least on the part of the women. Women expressed varying incentives and desires within each broad theme. In addition, these categories were not mutually exclusive; they sometimes overlapped. Six participants who had main sex partners indicated that they had one or more secondary sex partners for sexual pleasure and variety.
Their ages ranged from 19 to 50 years old. For example, Velvet 42 had been living with her boyfriend for six months and was also having sex with another man. Velvet used condoms with her extra relational partner but not with her steady boyfriend. Both she and her main sex partner had been tested for HIV, had received negative results and they subsequently did not feel the need to use condoms.
She and her partner had not had sex since she had given birth to their four-month old son. Mia 31 admitted being less attracted to her primary mate, with whom she lived for 12 years.
This was largely due to a shift in his expression of masculinity over the years. She used condoms with her secondary sex partners but not with her main partner, she stopped using condoms with him a few years into the relationship. Determined 50 was married and had one secondary sex partner.
What is he gonna do? So it was two different stories given. She and her partner had failed to use a condom once and did not use again. She reported that did not use condoms with her main partner because sex for her was more pleasurable without condoms. Condom use within this category was mixed: half of the women in this group did not use condoms with their main partners but did so with secondary sex partners; one Pinky reported condom use with her outside partners and no sex with her main partner in the last four months; another used condoms with only one secondary sex partner and not with her other one and her main sex partner; finally, one participant reported using condoms with her mate but not with her secondary sex partner.
Five women explained that they had outside sex partners because their main sex partners had either cheated or were strongly suspected of cheating. Similar to Nunn et al. For example, Cora 28 had one secondary sex partner in addition to her main partner, with whom she had been living for three years. She stopped using condoms with her main partner after they both received negative HIV test results earlier in their relationship.
I am not in a relationship where I am going to trust right now. Chanel explained that she did not use condoms with him because he had never infected her with a sexually transmitted infection. I am going to do it, too. Interestingly, the majority of women in this category did not use condoms with their main sex partners in spite of proven or suspected infidelity. Only one woman reported using condoms with both her main partner and secondary sex partner. Money and other resources were cited as another reason for having secondary sex partners.
Five women fell under this category. Three participants were crack users and outside partners were a source of income in order to pay for drugs. The attachment to their main sex partners was emotional rather than material. Face, 48 for example, felt that if her steady mate had more money, she would be monogamous. I already told them. I am looking for a man that is going to give me money, give it to me quick and give it to me easy.
She sometimes used condoms with her outside sex partners and did not use them with her main partner. She explained that both she and her partner did not want to use condoms. Juicy also exchanged sex for money with other men, but this income was used for other things besides drugs. Number three, he takes care of anything that has to do with school, home, bills, things like that. Number four, that just like, pocket expenses money. I use him for MetroCards, weed, cigarettes, whatever. She combined both in her sexual relationships; some partners were utilized for daily living expenses and others to meet the costs of leisure items.
Her other sex partners, on the other hand, fulfilled unmet material needs and desires. She used condoms in addition to birth control with her current sex partners. Three out of the five women in this category did not use condoms with their main sex partners but did so with their secondary sex partners. Two women reported using condoms only sometimes with their secondary sex partners; one of these women used condoms with her main sex partner while the other did not. Four respondents, Bossy 18 , Bronx-Brownie 30 , Sabrina 49 and Lolo 50 had extra relational sex partners who were ex-boyfriends and they were finding it difficult to let them go.
He took me places, he took me on a trip to get away from the drugs. Dynamics from past relationships affected those with current main sex partners. This seems to be the case with some women in our study.