Wives without husbands: gendered vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections among previously married women in India

AIDS Care. 2012;24(9):1103-10. doi: 10.1080/09540121.2012.672715. Epub 2012 Apr 23.


Using population-based and family structural data from a high HIV-prevalence district of Southern India, this paper considers four suggested social scenarios used to explain the positive correlation between HIV prevalence and previously married status among Indian women: (1) infection from and then bereavement of an infected husband; (2) abandonment after husbands learn of their wives' HIV status; (3) economic instability after becoming previously married, leading women to seek financial support through male partners; and (4) the social status of being previously married exposing women to sexual harassment and predation. By also considering seroprevalence of two other common sexually transmitted infections (STIs), herpes and syphilis, in a combined variable with HIV, we limit the likelihood of the first two scenarios accounting for the greater part of this correlation. Through a nuanced analysis of household residences patterns (family structure), standard of living, and education, we also limit the probability that scenario three explains a greater portion of the correlation. Scenario four emerges as the most likely explanation for this correlation, recognizing that other scenarios are also possible. Further, the interdisciplinary literature on the social position of previously married women in India strongly supports the suggestion that, as a population, previously married women are sexually vulnerable in India. Previously married status as an STI risk factor requires further biosocial research and warrants concentrated public health attention.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology*
  • Herpes Genitalis / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • India / epidemiology
  • Marriage / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Spouses
  • Syphilis / epidemiology*
  • Young Adult