Contexts of risk and networks of protection: NYC West Indian immigrants' perceptions of migration and vulnerability to sexually transmitted diseases

Cult Health Sex. 2011 May;13(5):513-28. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2011.562304.


To generate insights into how migration shapes sexual risk and protection, we interviewed 36 female and 20 male West Indian immigrants attending a public sexually transmitted disease clinic in Brooklyn, New York, between 2004 and 2005. Migration theory suggests that shifts in sexual partnership patterns, bi-directional travel and changes in sexual norms may alter risk. We found evidence of sexual mixing across ethnic groups: a large proportion of participants' partners were not born in the West Indies, despite what is expected among first generation immigrants. Recent travel 'home', another potential source of risk, was uncommon. In open-ended interviews, two themes around sexual and social networks emerged. First, immigrants believed that access to wider, more anonymous sexual networks in New York City (NYC) and the weakening of social controls that limit multiple partnerships (especially for women) promoted greater risk. Second, immigrants experienced greater opportunities for protection in NYC, both through exposure to safer sex messages and availability of condoms. Reported changes in their own condom use, however, were not attributed to migration. West Indian immigrants' risk in NYC may be driven by access to wider sexual networks but failure to alter reliance on 'networks of knowledge' for protection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Awareness
  • Condoms / statistics & numerical data
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • New York City / epidemiology
  • Qualitative Research
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Risk Factors
  • Safe Sex
  • Sexuality / psychology*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Social Support*
  • West Indies / ethnology
  • Young Adult