Racial Metaphors: Interpreting Sex and AIDS in Africa



Western preconceptions regarding African sexuality distorted early research on the social context of AIDS in Africa and limited the scope of preventive policies. Key works cited repeatedly in the social science and policy literature constructed a hypersexualized pan–African culture as the main reason for the high prevalence of HIV in sub–Saharan Africa. Africans were portrayed as the social ‘Other’ in works marked by sweeping generalizations and innuendo, rather than useful comparative data on sexual behaviour. Although biomedical studies demonstrate the role of numerous factors that influence HIV transmission among poor people, a narrowly behavioural explanation dominated the AIDS–in–Africa discourse for over a decade and still circumscribes preventive strategies in Africa and elsewhere.