Jacob Zuma has been catching heat for fathering a child outside his (polygynous) marriage. HIV/AIDS activists criticize the Zulu custom of marrying many wives. There are good reasons to discourage polygyny, but it’s Zuma’s philandering outside marriage and not his multiple marriages that poses the real AIDS risk.
In fact, a new paper just published suggests that polygyny is associated with lower HIV transmission:
HIV prevalence is lower in countries where the practice of polygyny is common, and within countries, it is lower in areas with higher levels of polygyny.
Proposed explanations for the protective effect of polygyny include the distinctive structure of sexual networks produced by polygyny, the disproportionate recruitment of HIV-positive women into marriages with a polygynous husband, and the lower coital frequency in conjugal dyads of polygynous marriages.
Don’t worry, I didn’t get that last bit either. As far as I can understand: men with many wives are old and have less sex; meanwhile all the men who want to have lots of sex (the young ones) can’t find a partner.
Other AIDS research blames concurrent sex for the escalation of the African AIDS crisis.
The story: Africans don’t have more sex than Americans; both have roughly the same number of partners in a lifetime. But Americans are more likely to be serial monogamists, while Africans are more likely to have concurrent partners (outside marriage). These networks allow HIV to spread more easily. Polygyny, it seems, is the exception.
Only, of course, if guys like Zuma stick to their three wives.