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Norms Perceived and Endorsed by African American Women in the Washington, DC Women's Interagency HIV Study: Implications for Sexual Wellbeing Open Access

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Recent literature has highlighted the relevance of racialized sexual stereotypes of African American women, and the underlying behavioral norms they promote, to the perpetuation of HIV/AIDS and overall sexual wellbeing within this demographic group. Specifically, the sexual deviance and subjugation by which cultural portrayals of African American women are often characterized have been suggested to shape African American women's perceptions of heterosexual norms and their understanding of their own sexuality, ultimately compromising their confidence enacting safety-promoting or satisfaction-enhancing behaviors. However, empirical support for these theoretical links is lacking, and alternative portrayals of African American women as sexually empowered and independent challenge this assertion. The purpose of the current study was to clarify the sexual norms perceived and endorsed by African American women and to examine the indirect effects of such norms on sexual self-efficacy via sexual self-concept. Quantitative, paper-and-pencil measures of sexual norms (own endorsement of norms and perceptions of norm-consistent expectations held by by female friends and male partners), sexual self-concept, and sexual self-efficacy were administered to 149 HIV-positive and high-risk, HIV-negative women 26 to 76 years old (Mage = 45.4). Participants were drawn from the Washington, DC Women's Interagency HIV Study (WIHS) sample. An exploratory factor analysis of data collected with a newly developed measure, the Sexual Norms and Expectations Index (SNEI), identified two factors, labeled Sexual Restrictiveness and Sex As A Commodity. Structural equation modeling revealed that both norms were linked to a more negative sexual self-concept, which, in turn, was related to reduced sexual self-efficacy. These findings provide support for the widely speculated relevance of norms promoted by racialized sexual stereotypes to women's subjective sexual experience within this select sample of African American women.

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