In their review, Davis and Whitten note that anthropological approaches to the cross-cultural study of sexuality typically reflect prevailing values in the West at the time (Davis & Whitten, 1987). Sexuality remains a provocative subject area with a range of ethical and methodological difficulties. There remain few detailed ethnographic studies on sexuality and sexual health (Vance, 1991), especially in relation to aging and sexuality, youth sexuality (Burbank, 1988; Manderson & Rice, 2002), homosexual practices (Taylor, 1985), sexual violence, transsexualism, or other cross-gender behavior/third gender identification in cross-cultural settings (Nanda, 1985; Nanda & Francher, 1980; Shah, 1961). Little anthropological work has explored gender reassignment and sex change surgery.
Much of the recent work on sexuality is in response to the advent of HIV/AIDS (see the entry HIV/AIDS). How people categorize the disease affects their perceptions of risk and preventive behaviors (Ingstad, 1990; Lyttleton, 2000). Farmer's influential ethnography traced the emergent collective representations of AIDS in a rural village in Haiti across six years (Farmer, 1992). From associations with outsiders, villagers gradually incorporated AIDS into local understandings of illnesses produced by dirty blood, to a more severe form of a locally defined illness. As villagers had direct experience of the illness through infected people, AIDS became defined as a "sent illness" and associated with TB. He traces the increased politicization of AIDS within the discourse of Haitian people and the political economy of AIDS through which poor people are at greater risk.
How people categorize their sexual encounters also affects their perceptions of risk. Parker (1987) shows how the sexual categories of Brazil are based on notions of passivity and activity and are not absolute. He noted that the very notion of safe sex runs counter to Brazilian notions of eroticism and that campaigns that depend on homosexual identity would be limited in their impact. Studies of commercial sex workers also point to the need to understand sexual networking and how sex workers differentiate between clients and intimate others and factors contributing to the use of condoms (Renaud, 1997).
Studies of HIV/AIDS also include attention to the social consequences of the disease for people infected, but also their families and communities (Barnett & Blaikie, 1992). Because of its associations with sex, particularly non-monogamous, commercial, or homosexual sex, intravenous drug use and blood, HIV/AIDS has evoked stigmatization and fear (Quam, 1990; Songwathana & Manderson, 2001).
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