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‘African Sex is Dangerous!’ Renegotiating ‘Ritual Sex’ in Contemporary Masaka District

  • Stella Nyanzi, Justine Nassimbwa, Vincent Kayizzi and Strivan Kabanda


The sexual culture of sub-Saharan African peoples is variously utilized as an explanation for the high incidence of HIV in Africa. Thus it has been the target of behaviour change campaigns championed by massive public health education. Based on ethnographic fieldwork (using participant observation, individual interviews, focus group discussions, and a survey) in Masaka District, this article contests a reified, homogeneous and ethnocentric sexualizing of Africans. It engages with how prescribed ritual sex practices are (re)negotiated, contested, affirmed, policed, revised and given meaning within the context of a society living with HIV/AIDS. Among Baganda, sex is customarily a vital component for ‘completing’ individual prosperity, kin-group equilibrium and social cohesion. Various forms of prescribed customary sexual activities range from penetrative sex interaction between penis and vagina, to symbolic performances such as (male) jumping over women's legs or (female) wearing of special belts. Unlike portrayals of customary sex activities in anti-HIV/AIDS discourse, the notion of ‘dangerous sex’ and the fear of contagion are not typical of all ritual sex practices in Masaka. Akin to Christianity, colonialism, colonial medicine and modernizing discourses, anti-HIV/AIDS campaigns are the contemporary social policemen for sex, sexuality and sexual behaviour. In this regard, public health discourse in Uganda is pathologizing the mundane aspects of customary practices. The HIV/AIDS metaphor is variously utilized by Baganda to negotiate whether or not to engage in specific ritual sex activities.

La culture sexuelle des peuples d'Afrique subsaharienne est diversement utilisée pour expliquer la forte incidence du VIH en Afrique. C'est pourquoi elle a été la cible de campagnes de changement de comportement dans le cadre de grands programmes d'éducation de santé publique. Basé sur des travaux ethnographiques (utilisant des observations participantes, des entretiens individuels, des discussions de groupes de réflexion et une enquête) menés sur le terrain dans le district de Masaka, cet article s'oppose à une sexualisation ethnocentrique, homogène et réifiée des Africains. Il s'intéresse à la manière dont les pratiques sexuelles rituelles prescrites sont (re)négociées, contestées, affirmées, policées, révisées et interprétées dans le contexte d'une société qui vit avec le VIH/SIDA. Chez les Baganda, le sexe est coutumièrement un composant essentiel pour « compléter » la prospérité individuelle, l'équilibre du groupe de parenté et la cohésion sociale. Les formes d'activités sexuelles coutumières prescrites sont diverses et variées, de l'interaction sexuelle pénétrative entre le pénis et le vagin aux actes symboliques comme le fait pour l'homme de sauter sur les jambes de la femme, ou pour la femme de porter des ceintures particulières. Contrairement aux descriptions faites des activités sexuelles coutumières dans le discours anti-VIH/SIDA, la notion de « sexualité à risque » et la peur de la contagion ne sont pas typiques des pratiques sexuelles rituelles de Masaka. Comme les discours de la chrétienté, du colonialisme, de la médecine coloniale et de la modernisation, les campagnes anti-VIH/SIDA sont les instruments contemporains de police sociale en matière de sexe, de sexualité et de comportement sexuel. À cet égard, le discours de santé publique en Ouganda pathologise les aspects prosaïques des pratiques coutumières. La métaphore du VIH/SIDA est diversement utilisée par les Baganda pour négocier le fait de participer ou pas à des activités sexuelles rituelles spécifiques.



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