Much of the nonquantitative literature assumes that extramarital sex must have a primarily economic underpinning, with women accepting material support, gifts, or money from their lovers. ''African women do not trust their boy-friends and believe that several are needed as a financial insurance," declare Awusabo-Asare et al. (1993:71). Indeed, two out of three rural women in a Nigerian study justified their extramarital affairs on the basis of economic security, although half of all extramaritally active urban women said they had sex outside marriage just for fun (Orubuloye et al., 1991). Even among market traders, a group often thought highly likely to supplement their income through sexual relations (e.g., Orubuloye et al., 1992), nearly one-quarter said they had affairs for pleasure (Omorodion, 1993). In-depth interviews in Uganda suggest that the most common reaction by men to their wives having extramarital affairs was to try to avenge oneself by sleeping with the wife of the offending man—a powerful push toward extramarital sex (Obbo, 1993a).

An interesting variation on the theme of extramarital sex as a survival strategy is proposed by Guyer (1994). She maintains that easily dissolved marriages and increasingly common informal unions may be insufficient to ensure support for women, who are instead turning to childbearing as a survival strategy. Because men in most of sub-Saharan Africa are happy to claim paternity, and extended families are happy to absorb additional members, bearing a child may give a woman a stake in a man's family resources, regardless of whether she has married into the family or not. Bearing several children to different men will potentially allow the woman a claim to the resources of several families. Where conception and childbirth are the prime goal of a union, the prognosis for condom use as an AIDS-prevention strategy cannot be good.

It appears that a woman's postpartum abstinence may well be a strong motivation for men to seek sex outside marriage. Messersmith et al. (1994) show strong aggregate agreement between the sexes when reporting their own or their partner's pregnancy and lactation; but while only 12 percent of breastfeeding women reported having sex in the last 4 weeks, the proportion was three times as high among men who declared that their main partner was lactating.5 Hogsborg and Aaby (1992) report that 68 percent of women observing postpartum abstinence or their male principal partners said the male partner had sex with others during that time.

Levels of extramarital sex with nonregular partners vary, though once again comparisons are difficult because of differences in definition. 6 WHO/GPA surveys

5  

 Men in this situation may have been having sex with other regular partners during this time. The study does not distinguish regular from casual partners in this context.

6  

 Nevertheless, levels are generally much higher than in non-African countries for which representative data are available (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Mauritius) (see Cleland and Ferry, 1995). The only country shown thus far to have levels of nonmarital sex comparable to those of Africa is Thailand.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement