A new study in the Lancet has produced the interesting finding that the well-known high rates of AIDS in Africa do not simply track a high rate of promiscuity. In fact, a larger proportion of people in industrialized countries have multiple partners than do Africans.
The Lancet study suggests two reasons that African men might spread sexually transmitted diseases more often and more efficiently than do their counterparts in industrialized nations. First, those African men who do have multiple sex partners are much more likely to have sex with prostitutes. In southern Africa, where AIDS rates are highest, about 12% of men report having had sex in exchange for money or gifts, whereas the European rate (which is a decent proxy for the American rate) was under 3%. Second, African men who do have sex with prostitutes or mistresses are much more likely to have overlapping sexual relationships with their wives. Add to this the fact that African wives are most likely to say that they cannot refuse sex with their husbands, nor insist on condoms, and we can seen how less promiscuity could nonetheless translate into more AIDS.