Is having simultaneous multiple sex partners a mental illness?

Is having simultaneous multiple sex partners a mental illness? One Jamaican psychiatrist certainly thinks so. Dr. Frederick Hickling, speaking at a mental health campaign launch at the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC), called this behavior a “pathology.” He continues saying, “I think that in this culture we are enticed by transgression and we condone transgressive behaviour. We more condone transgression than we condone normality. When somebody comes to you and asks for a ‘bly’ they are really saying ‘allow me to do something that is wrong instead of doing something for myself’. I think that is absolutely wrong and I think it is abnormal and I think it is a form of psychological denial about things that we know we ought not to be doing”.

Dr. Frederick also took to task the often-cited links between polygamy in Africa and Jamaican (and by extension Caribbean) men’s multiple sexual partnerships, noting that the African links are used as an excuse for transgressive behavior.

As evidence for his mental illness theory, Dr. Frederick also cited the numerous musical examples glorifying such behavior. Among the ones mentioned was Beenie Man’s “Nuff Gyal” below.

Reflecting on the music and on men having simultaneous multiple sex partners, Dr. Frederick also said this “reflects the kind of attitude we have in the Caribbean towards transgression. That’s a very male, chauvinistic position where the man believes he can do what he wants, and when he wants. This is neither a pandemic, nor is it soft. It is an epidemic and it is hard”. To be sure, he also said this behavior is not a male only phenomenon, but it is male dominated.

So, is this a mental illness? I need much more evidence before coming a solid conclusion as such. And considering that these statements were made at the launching of a mental health awareness campaign, Dr. Frederick made every attempt to include cultural, sociological and psychosocial explanations for considering this a mental illness. Nevertheless, before we call it a metal illness or jump to how such behavior is (re)presented in music, we should look at how males are socialized across the Caribbean region. From young, men are often asked to prove their maleness by being with women. We make it very difficult for a young man to choose to abstain from sex or to choose to be with one person. Oftentimes, our parents or other adults nearest and dearest to us were engaged in this behavior and although we are not told to ‘do this’, we are also often not told the opposite.

Although I am not convinced this is a mental illness, it is a societal ill. It is reflected in the many single-parent or grand-parent headed households across the region. It is reflected in the rising HIV and other STI cases, particularly among Caribbean women. It is reflected in rising violent crime committed by young men. It is reflected by the number teen pregnancies.

This is actually an important conversation to have. We should be talking more about mental health across the region. We should also be talking more about the impact of simultaneous multiple sex partners not only from a mental health standpoint, but also from a public health and sociological standpoint. I’m just not sure if the two belong in the same conversation in then vein of Dr. Frederick.

The full article is available at the Jamaica Observer website here

Music Mondays: T.O.K’s ‘Footprints’ addresses youth violence

“‘Hurry up and come back’, was the first thing she said to her son the day his life was taken…” “Footprints” starts out with the harrowing act of youth violence…the sad image of a mother sending her son off only to not have him return. This seems to be commonplace in our society.

This song is one of the most powerful of the last decade and I remember it being in heavy rotation around the Caribbean region when it first came out. What I do not remember is any major discussion about it’s message. Rising youth violence and crime is not just an individual issue, it is a population issue and has implications for population health.

During my time in the U.S. Virgin Islands, I saw many funerals for young people killed by the barrel of  a gun or the blades of a knife. I have two very young cousins who are growing up without fathers because of this violence. I know of a family in constant pain because of the choices of one child. Almost every day, there are news stories from across the region of youth committing violent acts against one another…of youth deaths…premature deaths.

I remember a few years ago, there was a case in Antigua where a (Black) young man allegedly killed a (White, foreign) young woman while she was on vacation. The news reports–and the online comments below the report–worked to demonize the young man as a ‘no-good’ foreigner whose sole goal in life was to bring negative attention to the island. Among those comments were a few dissenting voices–some knowing the conditions under which he grew up–questioned the system that seeks to limit options for immigrant children. Someone went as far as to say that the young man had spent much to his formative years in Antigua, and therefore much of his socialization occurred there; so to paint him as a foreigner is to direct attention to the wrong issues.

He would be considered one of the many at-risk young people around the region today, having many of the risk factors associated with rising violence: poverty, lack of opportunities, no significant bonds with adults, lack of a connection with educational institutions, and the presence of cultural values that encourage and reinforce risky behavior. You see, as a society, we are quick to say that drugs and alcohol are the culprits. Yet we somehow fail to see that there are also underlying factors for drugs and alcohol use.

Just last week, Barbados hosted an inaugural working group on preventing crime by focusing on vulnerable youth and at-risk populations. Although held under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, there seems to be an active consciousness to thinking about violence as a public health issue. By the end of the meeting, there was greater emphasis on fighting “the scourge of youth violence where youths are disproportionately represented in the ranks of both victims and perpetrators of crime and violence in the Caribbean.” (See full article here.)

Like CBSI, there are many other initiatives attempting to research the issue of violence across the region and to implement viable interventions:

A few years ago, the Wellcome Trust started the ‘Fighting Back: tacking violence in the Caribbean’ project “to map the full extent of the problem and get to the heart of its possible causes.” The hope is to use the information gathered to design more effective intervention and prevention programs. More information can be found here.

The World Bank is also attempting to address this issue with their Toolkit for At-Risk Youths. You can read more about it here and here.

The IADB also has cases form various islands on developing protective factors and mitigating risk factors here.

Imagine, this post started while reflecting on a song; a song that details many of the risk factors for engaging if violence.

Music Mondays: Transactional Sex in “Yaw Yaw”

I’m starting this new feature to highlight music from across the Caribbean that in some way brings to the forefront various social issues: Good, bad and other. I had been thinking about doing this for some time because, first, I love music and second, I love Caribbean music and third, we as a region produce a range of music and although many often see and hear of the more licentious or violent segments of our music, in every song, there is so much more.

One good example is a song called “Yaw Yaw” from Dominica 2011 Road March Champion Sour Sour. Now, I have to admit I can’t help but move to the beat of this song. It’s catchy and groovy and easy to move to when you are on the road Carnival day. But, what first caught my attention about this song was not the beat but its first line:

“I hear you making more bomb than Russia; and taking more wood than a bakery”.

For anyone not familiar with the these sayings, someone “making bomb” is essentially engaging in transactional sex. Growing up, I would hear of this and that person “making bomb” tonight, so she ( and it’s usually spoken of as the female who is engaging in this behavior) could pay her light bill or water bill. And in this case, wood is a euphemism for the male genitalia.

The song then goes on to say:

“Every Saturday, I see a lady going inside of her house; next thing, I seeing six, seven fellas go inside that same house; next thing I see her, coming out with plenty money.” (This is basically the entire song.)

This explains the first part of the song about ‘making bomb and ‘taking wood’. It’s much more explicit here than at the beginning and the transactional nature of the sexual relationship is clearly stated. Now, for a country that criminalizes prostitution, this concept would never be called as such. In fact, prostitution or sex workers are only thought of in the context of the ‘other’. They are never people whom you know and grew up with and are ‘making bomb’. In fact, in many towns and villages, many people most likely know which women are ‘making bomb’ and which men are willing to pay.

The first time I heard this song, I was deep into literature on multiple and concurrent partnerships and transactional sex and how those patters helps spread HIV. For me, it was not a hard stretch to start asking questions about local epidemics in the region and the role of transactional sex. I recently saw Tribes, MTV’s Staying Alive Ignite program from Trinidad highlighting the nature of transitional sex between an older man and younger women as well as concurrent partnerships. However, not much – well nothing really – is known about this more accepted form of transactional sex.