Bringing Hispanic Men into Focus (Groups)

It’s tempting to wonder which aspect of a 1993 article about AIDS norms and beliefs seemed most novel to Perspectives readers at the time. It might have been the study’s focus on working-class Hispanic men, who then constituted an understudied population in AIDS research. Or maybe it was the methodology: The study was the first qualitative analysis to appear in Perspectives in more than three years, which is perhaps why the authors spent six paragraphs dutifully explaining the purpose, format and interpretation of focus group research.

Either way, Katherine Forrest and her coauthors reported a number of factors that might have been contributing to HIV transmission among Hispanic men, who at the time accounted for a growing share of new AIDS cases. Among their findings:

•Although men’s factual knowledge was, in the authors’ view, “moderately high,” misconceptions abounded. Some men thought they could become infected through food, dental procedures or razors, and one man expressed regret over having lent someone his soldering mask. “Never again,” he insisted. “AIDS could be transmitted through sweat.”
•Most men did not perceive themselves to be at risk, even if they had sex with casual partners or prostitutes. Many believed they could easily determine whether a woman had AIDS by her appearance, behavior or social circumstances.
•Several relied on dubious approaches to risk reduction, such as postcoital washing with lemon juice or rubbing alcohol.
•Condom use was inconsistent and was largely for pregnancy prevention. A few men didn’t see the point of even trying to prevent AIDS. “If you’re gonna get it, you get it,” a particularly fatalistic respondent said. “There’s nothing you can do about it.”
•Finally, cultural norms were a barrier to condom use. “Mexicans—we’re not very preventive,” one participant said. Others noted that their frequent social drinking at bars affected their judgment and their likelihood of risky behavior with the opposite sex. “Liquor messes your head,” declared one man, “[and] machismo comes out.“
Although addressing misconceptions about HIV and AIDS (among individuals of all races and ethnicities) remains a public health challenge in the United States, qualitative studies are no longer a rarity in Perspectives: Last year they accounted for one-fourth of the journal’s articles.

Cover illustrations of Margaret Sanger © Matthew and Eve Levine