Being and feeling like a woman: respectability, responsibility, desirability and safe sex among women of Afro-Surinamese and Dutch Antillean descent in the Netherlands

M.G.B.C. Bertens*, J.S.M. Krumeich, B.E. van den Borne, H.P. Schaalma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The objective of this study was to describe and understand gender roles and the relational context of sexual decision-making and safe sex negotiation among Afro-Surinamese and Dutch Antillean women in the Netherlands. Twenty-eight individual in-depth interviews and eight focus group discussions were conducted. In negotiating safe sex with a partner, women reported encountering ambiguity between being respectable and being responsible. Their independence, autonomy, authority and pride inherent to the matrifocal household give them ample opportunity to negotiate safe sex and power to stand firm in executing their decisions. The need to be respectable burdens negotiation practices, because as respectable, virtuous women there would not be the need to use condoms. Respectable women will only participate in serious monogamous relationships, which are inherently safe. Women's desire to feel like a woman, 'to tame the macho-man' and constrain him into a steady relationship, limits negotiation space because of emotional dependency. Respectability seems to enforce not questioning men's sexual infidelity. In developing STI/HIV prevention programmes this ambiguity due to cultural values related to gender roles should be considered. Raising awareness of power differences and conflicting roles and values may support women in safe-sex decision-making.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)547-561
JournalCulture Health & Sexuality
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2008

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