Entries by Dr. Michelle Kaufman (13)

Monday
Nov102014

“Will You be My Bonus Wife?” The Practice of Marrying Sisters in Malawi

Recently I was in Malawi to train a team of field workers to conduct a large-scale survey on HIV prevention behavior. Before such an international trip, I often get a lot of questions regarding the landscape or local culture of my destination from people who are not familiar with my work or the part of the world I happen to be visiting. Most recently, an acquaintance asked me several questions about multiple sexual partnerships and polygamy in Malawi. “Are people really okay with having multiple partners? Even the women? Even married people?” So during my uneventful nights in a remote hotel on top of a mountain in Malawi’s southern region, I did some reading on local marriage customs. Almost as if thoughts were planted by my acquaintance, I came across a concept I was unfamiliar with—the “bonus wife” (mbirigha or nthena in Chichewa, the local language).

In several Malawian cultures, a man acquires a “bonus wife” when he marries the younger sister or niece of his current wife.

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Thursday
Feb132014

I’ll Prove My Love to You: Valentine’s Day in Tanzania

Michelle Kaufman is a researcher that focuses on sexual behavior in the developing world. She globetrots regularly, engaging in ethnographic work along the way in order to inform the quantitative and qualitative research she conducts. Recently, Michelle visited Tanzania and investigated how people celebrate Valentine’s Day.

While in Tanzania last month, I asked everyone I met about Valentine’s Day. Do Tanzanians celebrate it, and how?

Who celebrates Valentine’s Day in Tanzania? First, Valentine’s Day is not commonly celebrated in Tanzania. Not surprisingly, it is viewed as a holiday for urban, wealthier people, and mostly for the youth. Those living in rural areas or those who are living day-to-day just trying to survive don’t give Valentine’s Day much thought (they are more focused on things like food, shelter, etc.). All my informants made it clear right away that this is a holiday for the well off with expendable income.

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Thursday
Nov142013

“We Don’t Have Anal Sex in Malawi” and Other Tales

Michelle Kaufman is a researcher who focuses on sexual behavior in the developing world. She globetrots regularly, engaging in ethnographic work along the way in order to inform the quantitative and qualitative research she conducts. Recently, Michelle visited Malawi to start a research study on condom use and accessibility.

I recently returned from a research trip to Malawi where I was training a data collection team on the procedures and questionnaires for two small studies, one focused on condom use and accessibility, and the other on male circumcision. The team with which I work—from the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, Malawi—is in the midst of conducting a 10-year-long program called BRIDGE, which focuses on HIV prevention through the provision of services such as voluntary male medical circumcision (VMMC), getting pregnant women to enroll in treatment for prevention of mother-to-child-transmission (PMTCT) of HIV, and, most relevant to this article, condom distribution.  

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Friday
Aug232013

Am I Too Old? Is Her Boss Too Nice? Help!

I have been dating a Filipino girl for about 7 months. It has been a very serious relationship at times, and I decided to give her a friendship ring. I am much older than her; she in her 30s and I'm in my mid-50s. Sometimes I feel embarrassed to walk with her, and I think she does, too, because of the age difference. Lately we have been arguing a lot about things related to jealously. She is a nanny at a huge home in the city. I see her only on weekends. She and I have discussed marriage and buying a house, but I get the feeling she is nervous as I am, too. The place where she lives is odd to me; maybe I am just ignorant, but it seems to me that she adores her employer, who can do nothing wrong; he is a really, really nice guy (so she says). She lights up when talking about him and looks for him when she goes there, and when he is not there she seems depressed. I wonder if there is anything there? He gives her gifts, which makes me feel uncomfortable. I worry if I am wasting my time. He has asked her if I have a house, and they just seem a little too close for my liking. In the summer he is with her all day, and I feel insecure. She tells me I am her man, but I've noticed a few looks here and there. I think his marriage is not the best; he is on the road all week and sees her only on weekends. Should I be concerned or am I just an idiot??!!! Is it possible that she developed an attachment to him when she first arrived from the Philippines? And she also has had a troubled relationship with her dad at home in the Philippines. I do love her very much and want to marry her some day. I think she does, too, but I have an odd feeling about it is all...

Dear BJ,

I think you answered your own question. You start by saying your relationship has been very serious “at times,” implying the seriousness fluctuates. You feel “embarrassed” to walk around with each other in public. There seems to be a lot of jealousy and arguing. You are both “nervous” about next steps (buying a house and getting married). Sounds to me like you may want to address these issues before considering taking the relationship to the next level.

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Thursday
May162013

Is He a Butt or a Breast Man?: Eye Fixations and Men’s Hump Preference

Men’s fascination with women’s butts and breasts is well known. They will often debate the qualities of each feature when together in a locker room or at a bar. But did you know there is actually empirical research on whether men prefer booty or boobs?

In a series of studies, researchers at the University of Buenos Aires recently looked at heterosexual men’s preferences for women’s breasts or women’s butts.

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Wednesday
Apr172013

Four Steps to a Happy Relationship, According to Ethiopian Men

Michelle Kaufman is a researcher who focuses on sexual behavior in the developing world. She globe trots regularly, engaging in ethnographic work all along the way in order to inform both the quantitative and qualitative research she conducts. Recently, Michelle visited Ethiopia and attempted to find out the secrets to a good relationship.

On a recent trip to Ethiopia, I asked the same question of many men, some single and dating, some young and newly married, and some older men in committed relationships for many years: What makes a relationship successful?

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Thursday
Dec062012

Could You Be Loved, and Give Love? Cultural Differences in Pursuing a Partner

Michelle Kaufman is a researcher who focuses on sexual behavior in the developing world. She globe trots regularly, conducting ethnographic work all along the way in order to inform both the quantitative and qualitative research she conducts. Recently, Michelle visited 3 countries in 1 trip and did a cross-cultural comparison.

My last international romp spanned across 2 continents and 3 countries—Indonesia, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. Since I’ve written about each of these countries individually, this time I decided to do a cross-cultural comparison in my ethnographic fieldwork. In each country, I wanted to look at how men and women show their romantic interest in a potential partner.

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Friday
Oct052012

“Tulizana!”: Taming Sexual Networks in Tanzania

There has been a lot of talk in the American media recently about a perhaps more “evolved” form of love in which people have open or multiple relationships—polyamory. Tanzanians have a history of this practice through polygynous practices (having multiple wives), which is rooted in the Bantu tradition. In fact, polygyny is permitted for up to 4 wives in Tanzania, with the permission of the first wife.

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Wednesday
Aug222012

No Pleasure for Women in a Land of Genital Mutilation

Michelle Kaufman is a researcher that focuses on sexual behavior in the developing world. She globe trots regularly, conducting ethnographic work all along the way in order to inform both the quantitative and qualitative research that she conducts. Recently, Michelle spent several weeks in Ethiopia teaching research methods at Jimma University. During that time she learned a lot about how Ethiopians view sex and female circumcision.

Spend a few weeks with 20-something year old men on a university campus and the topic of sex is bound to come up. I was teaching a course on Qualitative Research Methods at Jimma University in Ethiopia recently, whose student population is 90% male. True to form, once the students learned of my research background in sexual relationships, they eagerly started asking questions. I did the same.

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Monday
Jun252012

Massage Plus Plus: Indonesia, Happy Endings, and Child Sex Tourism

Michelle Kaufman’s second travel stop for the sake of relationship science was in Indonesia—Jakarta and Bali. This time she talked to many businessmen, expatriates, and local Indonesians about their experiences with sexual pleasure and transactions.

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Thursday
Jun072012

Concubines, Comfort Women, or Trafficking? A Stroll through the Seoul Sex Industry

I recently spent a few days in Seoul, South Korea on my way to Indonesia. I have some friends in Seoul, so I decided to check it out for a few days. Being a social scientist who specializes in sexual behavior, I asked anyone who would speak with me questions about people’s romantic relationships, marriage, and social norms around the topic of sex. Based on these conversations I came to the uncomfortable realization that commercial sex work is very common, if not normalized, in Korea. This normalization is partly due to the Japanese colonialist roots when prostitution was legal, as well as the abundance of brothels that serve military bases and the large number of business travelers visiting the city.

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Tuesday
May292012

Breaking It Off: Sex-Positive Shops and the Women’s Sex Toy Revolution  

Many consider the adult entertainment industry risqué, sleazy, and taboo. No more….the sexual marketplace now has a niche where women can feel sexually empowered and pampered rather than objectified and commoditized when pursuing sexual pleasure. Although the male consumer still drives much of the $14 billion “adult” industry, there are also female consumers who are willing to spend over $100 on a luxury vibrator (remember the Sex and the City episodes about The Rabbit and the Sharper Image luxury vibrators?). And women-owned and –operated sex stores are on the rise.1 These “sex-positive” stores are not the shady, dark stores that guys in trenchcoats sneak into. They are brighter, staffed by females (and males), and maintain a softer image with the hopes of projecting an image of “class” rather than “crass”. These shops stock well-designed, often eco-friendly “acsexsories” so women can feel good, rather than ashamed, about wanting sexual pleasure.

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Monday
Apr302012

We're From Different Cultures...Can It Work?

I have had a most thrilling and indecipherable relationship with a girl (I am 26 years old, she is 24): she is pretty, very stylish-looking, and has a divine figure, it seems. I have fancied that I love her with my whole soul. That is a strange thing. From the time that one likes a woman one truly believes that he could not get along without her for the remaining of his life. I know that in order to spend my existence side by side with another there must be not a brusque, physical passion that soon dies out, but a concordance of soul, temperament and temper. She is endowed with this elegant silliness. She chatters, babbles, says nonsense remarks that seem spiritual by how funny they are uttered. When she raises her arms, when she bents, when she gets into a car, when she shake hands, her gestures are perfect for correctness and appropriateness.

She wants to marry me, but I think such a relationship is doomed to failure. She is very poor , from a third-world country, quit school at age 17, often hysterical (unstable)  and is of doubtful reputation. The only thing that prevents me from stopping contact with her is that I know she loves me and wants to build a common project for the future. According to her standards, I am rich, overeducated, and from the aristocracy; we are exactly the opposite. Our families wouldn't get along with each other, our values & principles are different. Our conversations only consist of trivialities and are very limited. I can't discuss with her about politics, culture, travelling, history...She is somehow materialistic, though surprisingly sincere in her emotions towards myself. Despite all of this, I can't get her out of my mind (I wish I could), and vice-versa.

My question is: if 2 people are attracted by each other, love each other (or at least believe to) and have the sincere intention to build (or at least try to) a strong relationship that would last, can they achieve their objective even if they are extremely different (both intrinsically and in what life has offered to them since their encounter)?

If two people are attracted to each other and in love, can they build a lasting relationship in spite of very different cultural and economic situations?

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