The epidemiology of the recent rise in HIV cases in Britain highlights the need for more research among the heterosexual African migrant population.
New research should not, however, only extend the limited number of studies that describe observable patterns in sexual health but should also seek to determine their underlying social causation.
To achieve this, both methodological and ontological shifts are necessary in the existing research paradigm; we advocate that a broad range of qualitative techniques be deployed both to uncover the empirical details of specifically African sexual behaviours and to highlight and explore the ‘relational’ nature of sexual decision-making.
Rather than fixing on individuals, analysis must situate them within the broader discursive and material frames that structure the boundaries of decision-making. In addition, researchers need to utilise the parallel literature on the social embeddedness of HIV in Africa to inform analysis of the British context. It would then be possible to address the crucial question of whether the social conditions known to cause high-risk behaviours and facilitate transmission in Africa persist, or are transformed, after migration to the UK.
A key, and neglected, dimension of this is the role of spatial context in relational sexual decision-making and the constitution of social relationships in particular arenas. This needs further thought, particularly in relation to domestic space and gender identities.
We believe that the research agenda proposed herein has much to contribute to interventions and service provision. Nevertheless, we are mindful of the need for self-reflexivity about our role in the production of powerful knowledges about sex.
Our final proposal is that researchers seek ways to work with, not on, African communities in order to facilitate their own informed management of sexual health.