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“They Said What!?!”: An examination of African American colloquial sexual terminology

Marya L.O. Shegog, MPH, CHES1, Christopher Larose, MA1, Melva V. Thompson-Robinson, DrPH2, Donna L. Richter, EdD, FAAHB3, Denethia B. Sellers, PhD4, and Vanisha L. Brown, MPH5. (1) Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, 800 Sumter St., Columbia, SC 29208, 803-777-6256, shegogm@gwm.sc.edu, (2) Department of Health Promotion, University of Nevada Las Vegas, 4505 Maryland Parkway, Box 453050, Las Vegas, NV 89154-3050, (3) Dean, Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, 800 Sumter Street, Columbia, SC 29208, (4) Department of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation, Florida A&M University, 206 Gaither Office Complex, Tallahassee, FL 32307, (5) Department of Epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh, 130 DeSoto St, Room 513, Parran Hall, Pittsburgh, PA 15261

Acknowledgements: This project was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Grant Number) U36/CCU300430-20).

In order to increase the cultural relevance of HIV prevention programs in African American communities, an examination of the language surrounding sex and sexual acts serves to give unique insight into the community's perceptions and beliefs about intimacy and sexuality. This research into sexual terminology explores a variety of factors, including frequency of use, collocation, social context (including characteristics of the interlocutors) and semantic groupings.

Methods: Twenty-two focus groups were conducted with African American women and men ages 18-55 in urban and rural areas in the southeastern United States. The semi-structured discussions concentrated on the perceptions of HIV and partner risk. Each of the discussions was audio-taped, professionally transcribed and analyzed, identifying emerging and recurring themes using NVivo 2.1. Sexual terminology was identified, coded and further analyzed for linguistic value and meaning.

Findings: The study revealed that there is a wide variety of colloquial terminology relating to sex and sexuality. What is clear from the abundance of terms used is that sexuality is viewed as a taboo topic that requires colloquial framing. There are clear distinctions between the terminology typically used by men and women. Terminology used by males tended towards dysphemistic usage whereas female terminology was predominantly euphemistic reflecting gender/power relations within the community. By examining these words, their meaning and the context both insight and understanding is given to public health practitioners that work with this high HV risk community.

Learning Objectives:

  • By the end of the presentation participants will

    Keywords: HIV/AIDS, Communication

    Presenting author's disclosure statement:

    Not Answered

    Perspectives on HIV/AIDS & Sexual Issues

    The 134th Annual Meeting & Exposition (November 4-8, 2006) of APHA