'African sex is dangerous!' Renegotiating 'ritual sex' in contemporary Masaka district.
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The sexual culture of sub-Saharan African peoples is variously utilized as an explanation for the high incidence of HIV in Africa. Thus it has been the target of behaviour change campaigns championed by massive public health education. Based on ethnographic fieldwork (using participant observation, individual interviews, focus group discussions, and a survey) in Masaka District, this article contests a reified, homogeneous and ethnocentric sexualizing of Africans. It engages with how prescribed ritual sex practices are (re)negotiated, contested, affirmed, policed, revised and given meaning within the context of a society living with HIV/AIDS. Among Baganda, sex is customarily a vital component for ‘completing’ individual prosperity, kin-group equilibrium and social cohesion. Various forms of prescribed customary sexual activities range from penetrative sex interaction between penis and vagina, to symbolic performances such as (male) jumping over women's legs or (female) wearing of special belts. Unlike portrayals of customary sex activities in anti-HIV/AIDS discourse, the notion of ‘dangerous sex’ and the fear of contagion are not typical of all ritual sex practices in Masaka. Akin to Christianity, colonialism, colonial medicine and modernizing discourses, anti-HIV/AIDS campaigns are the contemporary social policemen for sex, sexuality and sexual behaviour. In this regard, public health discourse in Uganda is pathologizing the mundane aspects of customary practices. The HIV/AIDS metaphor is variously utilized by Baganda to negotiate whether or not to engage in specific ritual sex activities.