The Role of Heterosexual Men in Containing the Epidemic


About forty people showed up to attend a workshop at the 13th International Conference focused on heterosexual men. Martin Foreman of the Panos Institute says men are driving the epidemic. "Only when we focus on men will the epidemic change." He gave three reasons (with lots of statistics) to back up this statement:

  1. Men have more partners than women (18 times more in Togo);
  2. Men don't want to use condoms;
  3. Men control women.

Women are more likely to get infected but less likely to pass HIV on than men. He explained that putting the burden on women to get men to wear condoms is ineffective. "To impact the epidemic, men need to change their behavior."

A South African man spoke about the social norms that tell men to prove their "manliness" through physical strength and sex. Women are expected to be virgins and men experienced. Men say sex with a condom is like eating candy still in its wrapper. Women aren't considered full adults until they produce a child. He suggested peer counseling, humor and safer sex messages in men's sex magazines. "Men listen to men they socialize with."

The audience joined the discussion. A South African woman praised the South African man. "You've warmed the cockles of my heart." Another said: "Men don't want to admit they like sex with men too." A man from the U.S. said that hetero men feel marginalized in AIDS organizations. An African woman says they looked for positive male role models among government officials and athletes but couldn't find any.

Locally: Some Comments from Women Alive

In L.A. County, many activists have been advocating for years that in order to prevent the spread of HIV among communities of women, prevention messages must be targeted toward men who have sex with women and men. This is the source of our infections.

These are not gay men who have occasional sex with a woman. These are self-identified "straight" men who have wives, families, or girlfriends. For all intents and purposes they are heterosexual men who occasionally have sex with other men. This doesn't necessarily make them "bad people." These men are at risk of contracting HIV and at high risk of transmitting to women.

The theme set by the World Health Organization for World AIDS Day 2000, is focused on men making a difference. Women Alive's W.A.D. events will focus on men being accountable for their actions and taking some responsibility for curtailing the spread of HIV.