The role of violence in the social construction of intimate and sexual relationships, sexual risk taking, and parenting among low-income, inner city African Americans

Date of Completion

January 2009


Black Studies|Anthropology, Medical and Forensic|Psychology, Social




The current global capitalist economic system has contributed to the fact that the low-income, African American residents of inner city Hartford now live in a world of financial uncertainty, community violence, discrimination and social stratification. Living in poverty can be linked to the clustering of harmful behaviors, such as substance abuse and violence, resulting in poor health outcomes like infectious and stress related diseases and injuries. This research used an integrated approach, taking into consideration the gender imbalance and decision-making strategies unique to poor, inner city African Americans in hopes of providing important information for intervention strategies. I used research data collected by the Philadelphia and Hartford Research and Education about Sexual Health Communication Project in Hartford, CT. This included focus group discussions (FGDs; n=4) and individual interviews (SRIs, n=29) that elicited data on the socio-cultural context of intimate and sexual relationships and risks among low-income African Americans. Recoding the interviews using grounded theory, I examined the role of personal and structural violence in the social construction of intimate and sexual relationships, sexual risk-taking and parenting. I also examined the ways in which participants embodied social, political and economic forces. An analysis of the data revealed that participants normalized violent metaphors, phrases and behaviors in descriptions of their intimate and sexual relationships. The participants further incorporated legal, social service and popular culture into the social construction of those relationships and framed their life choices around issues of violence, mistrust and economic insecurity. This resulted in proportionately high rates of multipartnered fertility, STD infections, pregnancy and domestic violence. Recommendations include strengthening current program services and incorporating contextual information from personal, community as well as structural perspectives when designing and implementing new intervention strategies. ^