Power relations in sexual agreements among male couples in southern Africa
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Sexual agreements between same-sex practising men facilitate communication about health promotion activities, including HIV prevention. In African contexts, male couples negotiate their sexual agreements in relation to rigid cultural prescriptions about male power and privilege, intense hostility towards same-sex sexualities and persistent heterogendered socio-cultural norms. Yet the impact of such norms on relationship practices and HIV risk among male couples remains inadequately explored. This qualitative study examined the role of gendered power disparities in establishing sexual agreements among male couples in two Southern African contexts. Eighteen male couples completed in-depth interviews focused on relationship practices, including sexual agreements. The research employed critical social theory to analyse power relations and socio-cultural norms shaping male couples' explicit and implicit sexual agreements, with a focus on implications for HIV risk. The findings outline different types of and motivations for sexual agreements among male couples, including qualified non-monogamy with female partners only. The study illustrates how Southern African male-male sexual practices remain embedded in a cultural context favouring the replication of heteronormative sexual behaviours and relationship practices. These heterogendered norms impact negatively on the process of establishing explicit, mutually agreed-upon sexual agreements, and thus place male couples at increased risk for HIV.