Article

Masculinity and sexual practices in the military: a South African study

African Journal of AIDS Research (Impact Factor: 0.61). 04/2011; 10(1):43-50. DOI: 10.2989/16085906.2011.575547

ABSTRACT The military organisational culture tends to condone or encourage risk-taking behaviour. Willingness to accept and engage in risk taking behaviour is central to good soldiering and is strongly associated with readiness for combat. A corollary of this could be that off the battlefield this core attribute of the military culture might predispose soldiers to engage in other risky behaviours, such as unprotected sex. Soldiers’ working and living conditions, such as the high level of work related stress in combat and deployment situations and being away from home and particularly from partners for long periods, are reported as contributing to high rates of HIV in the military. This paper explores the underlying value system in the military context as a strong enabler facilitating risky sexual practice among male soldiers. This not only impedes on gender equality in the military organisation but also impacts on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS.

The paper derives from a qualitative study of a diverse group of 23-33 year old South African male soldiers. Semi-structured interviews were conducted and the interview transcripts were analysed through interpretive discourse analysis. The findings highlight that when soldiers are on deployment or attending military courses they report being tempted to engage in risky sexual behaviours. Underlying this narrative are patriarchal notions that men ‘need’ sex, and cannot survive without it and have the right therefore to demand it from their partner and to seek it from multiple partners. Women, in turn, are expected to provide sex but should not ask for it. Women, who are expressive of their sexuality both in uniform and as civilians, are often regarded as being “loose” or promiscuous. Male soldiers’ sexual practices appear to be rationalised predominantly on the basis of the male sexual drive discourse. It was found that there is an association between work in the military and high-risk sexual activity. It is therefore argued that tackling HIV in the military demands critical examination of constructions of masculinity.

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