Much of the research on African American males’ sexual attitudes and behaviors focuses on men who have sex with men or heterosexual adolescent males and pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease prevention. However, less is known about adult, heterosexual African American males’ sexual attitudes and behavior. To fill this gap, this study features an analysis of qualitative data from 33 African American men from a mid-sized urban city sharing their romantic relationship experiences. Specifically, the purpose of this study was to examine adult African American men’s past and present romantic relationships, the meanings they ascribed to those experiences, and the ways in which they shaped the men’s sexual attitudes and behaviors.
In-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 33 African American adult men. Participants were recruited from barber shops, social service agencies, philanthropic organizations, and churches through a targeted, community-based sampling procedure with the primary criteria being the men’s race and gender. On average, study participants were 40 years old, had 2.3 children, and earned $41,000 annually. Fifteen of the men held a high school diploma, 13 held a college degree, 1 held neither a high school diploma, nor a GED, and 4 did not report their educational attainment. At the time of data collection, 14 of the men were married to their first and only wife, 3 were divorced and re-married, 9 were single and had never married, and 7 were single as a result of being divorced. The data were analyzed in the phenomenological tradition to give voice to the meanings that the participants ascribed to their romantic relationship experiences.
Data analysis revealed several emergent themes. First, the men discussed the physical characteristics and personality traits that they found attractive. Second, the men’s narratives indicated that they believed that women were intentionally engaging in deception if their relationships started out causal and over time, the women decided that they wanted a more exclusive relationship. Finally, several of the men disclosed experiencing previous relationship trauma that made committing to subsequent relationships difficult and problematic.
Conclusions and Implications
This study’s findings contribute to knowledge on African American men’s sexual attitudes and behavior, an important topic with a limited literature that rarely features the firsthand accounts of the men or their lived experiences. Given that most of the research on African American male-female relationships suggests men’s preferred gender expression is a so-called cool pose characterized by bravado and posturing, that the men we interviewed were willing to be open and unfiltered offers an alternate narrative with the potential to shed light on the ways they are examined in research. Also, to the extent that many of the men in this study were so impacted by their previous relationship experiences that they would not allow themselves to fully commit to their subsequent relationships means that a sizable portion of the study sample may have been dealing with the impact of unresolved trauma, an unexpected finding that may inform future research on African American men.