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Acknowledgements

Table of Contents

List of Figures

I.

GENERAL OVERVIEW ................................................................................................... 1

Study rationale and objectives ......................................................................................... 1

Purpose of the study ........................................................................................................ 1

Summary of findings ........................................................................................................ 2

II.

BACKGROUND .............................................................................................................. 9

Sex education in Costa Rica ............................................................................................ 9

Sexuality and young people ........................................................................................... 10

Risk of HIV infection through sexual contact .................................................................. 12

Communities studied ..................................................................................................... 13

Life in the communities .................................................................................................. 15

Sexual contexts ............................................................................................................. 16

III.

METHODOLOGY .......................................................................................................... 19

Organization of the study ............................................................................................... 19

Specific objectives ......................................................................................................... 20

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Target population and study sample .............................................................................. 20

Research methods ........................................................................................................ 22

Preparation of interview guide ....................................................................................... 22

Selection and training of interviewers ............................................................................ 24

Conduct of in-depth interviews....................................................................................... 27

Focus groups................................................................................................................. 28

Interviews with community leaders ................................................................................ 29

Transcription and data analysis ..................................................................................... 29

Methodological challenges ............................................................................................ 30

IV.

CONCEPTUAL FRAME FOR THE ANALYSIS OF SEXUAL CULTURE ...................... 32

Introduction to social constructionism ............................................................................ 32

Basic principles ............................................................................................................. 33

Sexual discourses ......................................................................................................... 34

Sexual practice and identity ........................................................................................... 36

Gender, identity and sexual roles .................................................................................. 38

Discourses and prevention ............................................................................................ 39

Power and knowledge articulated in discourses ............................................................ 40

How do discourses on sex emerge? .............................................................................. 41

Reproduction of sexual discourses over time and space ............................................... 41

Discourse internalization................................................................................................ 42

How are discourses imposed? ....................................................................................... 43

Contradictions inherent within sexual discourses ........................................................... 44

Resistance to dominant discourses ............................................................................... 44

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Compartmentalization of discourses .............................................................................. 46

V.

HEGEMONIC SEXUAL DISCOURSES ......................................................................... 47

Background ................................................................................................................... 47

Principles of religious discourses ................................................................................... 47

Principles of gender discourses ..................................................................................... 54

Principles of scientific discourses .................................................................................. 56

VI.

ASSIMILATION OF RELIGIOUS DISCOURSES .......................................................... 60

Background ................................................................................................................... 60

The Costa Rican context ............................................................................................... 61

Female religious discourses .......................................................................................... 62

Male religious discourses .............................................................................................. 64

Community religious discourses .................................................................................... 65

Fundamentalist religious discourses .............................................................................. 67

VII.

ASSIMILATION OF GENDER DISCOURSES .............................................................. 72

Background ................................................................................................................... 72

How are sex roles internalized? ..................................................................................... 74

Public awareness of gender and the impulse for change ............................................... 74

Male gender discourses ................................................................................................ 76

Female gender discourses ............................................................................................ 79

Gender discourses in the communities .......................................................................... 82

The Villa del Mar model ................................................................................................. 82

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Gender discourses in Villa del Sol ................................................................................. 84

VIII.

ASSIMILATION OF SCIENTIFIC DISCOURSES .......................................................... 86

Background ................................................................................................................... 86

Scientific discourses and young people ......................................................................... 89

Male discourses in Villa del Sol ..................................................................................... 90

Male discourses in Villa del Mar .................................................................................... 94

Female discourses in Villa del Sol ................................................................................. 96

Female discourses in Villa del Mar .............................................................................. 100

IX.

LEARNING AND IMPOSITION OF DISCOURSES ..................................................... 103

Background ................................................................................................................. 103

Transmission of messages .......................................................................................... 103

Learning and repetition ................................................................................................ 105

Autos da fé, essentialist thinking and maichaeism ....................................................... 105

Proselytism .................................................................................................................. 106

Social instruments of control (punishment) .................................................................. 107

Individual instruments of control (the internal watchdog).............................................. 110

Tools and resources of the internal watchdog.............................................................. 113

X.

CONTRADICTIONS AND COMPARTMENTALIZATION ............................................ 115

Background ................................................................................................................. 115

Origins of contradictions .............................................................................................. 115

Contradictions and young people ................................................................................ 116

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Villa del Mar................................................................................................................. 116

Villa del Sol.................................................................................................................. 118

Discursive contradictions and tolerance of homosexuality ........................................... 119

Discourses and compartmentalization ......................................................................... 120

XI.

FORMAL RESISTANCES TO DISCOURSES ............................................................. 123

Background ................................................................................................................. 123

Erotic discourses ......................................................................................................... 123

Romantic discourses ................................................................................................... 129

Feminist discourses ..................................................................................................... 131

XII.

INFORMAL RESISTANCES TO DISCOURSES ......................................................... 134

Background ................................................................................................................. 134

Resistance by young women in Villa del Mar

134

Resistance by young men in Villa del Mar ................................................................... 135

Resistance by young men in Villa del Sol .................................................................... 136

Resistance by young women in Villa del Sol ................................................................ 137

XIII.

SEXUAL CULTURE AND ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES TO AIDS

PREVENTION ............................................................................................................. 139

Barriers to prevention .................................................................................................. 139

Towards a new model for prevention ........................................................................... 145

Make prevention culture-specific ................................................................................. 147

Empowering young people to make their own decisions must be a priority .................. 149

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Interventions should draw upon positive elements within discourses and sexual culture .............................................................................................................. 151

Widen the scope of AIDS prevention so that it is included in other programmes ................................................................................................................ 152

Recommended actions ................................................................................................ 153

Bibliography

154

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List of Figures

1.

Organization of the research team ................................................................................. 19

2.

Study sample broken down by age and sex................................................................... 21

3.

Study sample broken down by sex and age of first sexual experience........................... 21

4.

Study sample broken down by age of first menstruation ................................................ 22

5.

Time-table of activities ................................................................................................... 26

6.

Interviews with community leaders broken down by community .................................... 29

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I

General Overview

Study rationale and objectives

If nothing else, the AIDS epidemic has served to highlight young people's vulnerability to sexually-transmitted disease. Not only are they characterized by generally low levels of awareness regarding prevention strategies, but many engage in practices which place them at high risk of contracting HIV. In the face of this danger, the state's principal response has been to promote condom use through the school system and media. However, its efforts in this regard have been effectively stymied by the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church, a potent force in Costa Rica, and one which deemed the condom campaign to be immoral.

Given this context, the purpose of the present work is twofold. (1) to analyse the sexual cultures of young people and their impact upon sexual practice (particularly as this relates to the risk of HIV infection), and (2) to propose means of overcoming the impasse between rational-scientific prevention strategies and religious values.

During the course of this study, 'sexual culture' is used to refer to all sex-related discourses (messages) to which young people are exposed, their inherent contradictions, the forms of resistance they engender, and their role in the compartmentalization of feelings and thoughts.

Moreover, in order to highlight the discrepancies and contradictions inherent within these sexual cultures, we will carry out analyses in two communities that stand in sharp contrast to one another in terms of their socio-economic characteristics: the first being marginal in orientation ('Villa del Mar'), the second overwhelmingly middle class ('Villa del Sol')1.

1

The names of the communities were changed to protect the identity of project participants.

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Moreover, it should be noted that our aim is merely to examine sexual discourses, discursive practices and their relation to sexual culture, and not to undertake a comprehensive study of the myriad factors that may be related to sexual culture in one way or another. These we will only address indirectly, by exploring their role in changing sexual practices and discourses over time.

Structure of the study

This work is divided into 13 chapters, with the first four being primarily introductory in nature.

The first chapter summarizes the major findings, as well as outlining the study's rationale and organization. This in turn is followed by a contexualization of the research, consisting of a description of the participating communities, along with a discussion of sex education in Costa Rica and young people's sexual practices and awareness of HIV/AIDS. In the third chapter, we turn to questions of methodology, identifying specific objectives, providing detailed information on the study sample, research methods, principles underlying the preparation of the interview guide and characteristics of the field staff hired to carry out the study. Meanwhile, chapter four sets out the social constructionist framework that underpins our understanding of young people's sexual cultures. Moreover, this chapter also includes a discussion of the characteristics of discourses, their place in sexual culture and their impact on prevention.

Particular stress is placed upon their origins, the means by which they are imposed, their contradictions, the forms of resistance they generate and the effects which they produce.

In chapter five, we explore the bases of hegemonic sexual discourses - religious, gender-based and scientific - as they are internalized by the participants themselves. This in turn provides the necessary grounding for our discussion in chapters six, seven, and eight of the ways in which class and gender impact upon their assimilation by young people. Then, in chapter nine, we examine the various actors and coercive mechanisms at work in imposing and reinforcing the messages inherent within these discourses, while chapter ten encompasses an examination of their underlying contradictions, together with the gender- and class-specific coping strategies devised by young people to deal with them. Flowing from this discussion, chapters 11 and 12

examine the patterns of formal and informal resistance engaged in by young people in the face of prevailing sexual discourses. Finally, in chapter 13, we undertake an analysis of the range of obstacles placed in the way of effective prevention by sexual culture, as a basis upon which to articulate a more effective, more appropriate prevention model.

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Summary of findings

Given the continuing impasse between state agencies seeking to promote condom use among young people as a bulwark against the spread of HIV/AIDS, and a church hierarchy adamant in its refusal to sanction any such prevention campaign, the Latin-American Institute for Health Prevention and Education (ILPES) initiated a study in 1994 entitled 'Sexual Culture of Costa Rica's Youth and its Impact on HIV Infection' Funded as part of a larger multi-site project on youth by the Social and Behavioral Studies and Support Unit of the World Health Organization's Global Program on AIDS, its underlying purpose was to explore the sexual cultures of Costa Rica's youth and to propose alternative models for sex education.

Methodology

Adopting a comparative approach, we sought initially to identify two communities - 'Villa del Mar'

and 'Villa del Sol' - which differed widely in the socio-economic background of their inhabitants, the quality of their social and physical infrastructure, their economic base and, last but not least, the sexual lives of their youth. Having decided upon two appropriate candidates, the next step entailed identifying a study sample of young people (aged 12 to 19) of both sexes who were long-time residents of their community. A series of quotas were used to generate the sample, with community membership, sex, age, first sexual experience and onset of menstruation (for girls) being the principal criteria employed in this regard. In total, 58 individuals were selected to participate in an in-depth interview, with eight focus groups conducted with 24 additional young people as a way of corroborating the individual responses. Moreover, we also carried out a number of interviews with community leaders, as well as retaining the services of two ethnographers (a man and a woman), who collected information on the lifestyles and everyday realities of young people in both communities.

Conceptual framework

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At a theoretical level, the research is informed by the tenets of social constructionism. That is to say, we assume that sexual culture arises from discourses and discursive practices, through which young people come to define themselves and their sexuality. Moreover, situated discursive practices also influence the forms of resistance adopted by young people, which may involve, for example, the articulation of alternative, non-hegemonic discourses. However, by the same token it is clear that there is more to sexual culture than the discursive. To cite but one example, one might argue that the relative wealth or poverty of each community also plays an important role in shaping the development of such cultures.

In present-day Costa Rica, one may identify at least six major sexual discourses. The first three are hegemonic, and these we have labeled 'religious', 'gender-based' and 'rational-scientific'.

Meanwhile, the latter three are resistance discourses, and these may be termed 'erotic',

'romantic' and 'feminist'. As these discourses are not the exclusive domain of any single group -

though admittedly some derive greater benefit from them than do others - contradictions and resistance are inevitable. Moreover, young people do not assimilate them mechanically, but rather transform them in ways that are reflective of their class and gender positioning. In this way, the sexual cultures of Costa Rican youth are subject to a constant process of (re)negotiation, with class and gender being but two of the variables at work in influencing the particular thrust of their evolution.

Hegemonic discourses

In order to lend some support to this claim, let us consider each of the dominant sexual discourses in turn. Reference has already been made to the power of the Roman Catholic church in Costa Rica, and certainly there can be little question that its hostility to all forms of non-reproductive and extra-marital sex informs much of the population's thinking on questions of sexuality. However, by the same token it is clear that young people do not internalize religious discourses on sex without question. In the first instance, the degree of acceptance varies along lines of class, with Villa del Sol youth in particular showing themselves willing to question and criticize the tenets of the Church on matters such as sex before marriage. In Villa del Mar, by contrast, there is little questioning of religious doctrine. Since the community itself is in a state of crisis, and hence unable to respond effectively to young people's needs and expectations, the latter expect salvation to come from God instead.

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Not surprisingly, gender is another significant factor in conditioning young people's acceptance of religious discourses. Female participants, for example, tend to re-interpret and modify them according to the inter-personal relationships in which they are enmeshed. Thus, if someone close to them is revealed to be gay, they will simply cease to acknowledge the validity of the Church's condemnation of homosexuality. Along somewhat different lines, young men tend to use 'logic' as the lens through which they view religious teachings. That is to say, they will accept those rules which make sense to them, and reject those which don't. In this way, if they believe there is no scientific basis for the Church's interdiction against masturbation, they will ignore the latter. However, if they accept the view that masturbation poses a risk to their health, they will simply take the Church's views on the matter as a given.

Turning to dominant discourses around gender, there can be little doubt that the 'traditional'

understanding of men and women's roles remains alive and well, despite attempts by young people to modify it in ways that are reflective of their own social realities. Thus, one might argue that while male participants continue to feel superior to their female counterparts, they also believe that they must be compassionate and more flexible with their partners. They are willing to accept the view that women can work, play and study to the same degree that they can.

Nevertheless, there are at least three areas that remain forbidden territory: sexual initiation, sexual practice and use of language. That is to say, young men expect women to remain feminine, never to initiate a sexual relation or utter a 'vulgar' word. As for young women, they clearly share many of the same essentialist theories as to why they should be seen as the

'weaker' sex. However, their traditional understanding has been altered somewhat by what one might call a 'gender-specialization discourse'. What does this mean? In short, even as women accept the view that their femininity and child-rearing skills ( inter alia) are rooted in biology, they do not feel that they should be considered inferior to men as a result.

Of course, gender discourses are also influenced by class. Members of poor communities, for example, tend to associate gender far more closely with the body and physical activities, with differences between men and women being rooted in relative strength and physical power. As one might imagine, adherence to this model demands that women be housewives and care-givers, while men are expected to provide for their families and protect them from danger. Love between men and women is expressed through acts of mutual physical care. In Villa del Sol, by contrast, gender discourses are focused less on physical strength and more on mental processes. Thus, rather than equating male and female with such dualisms as activity/passivity or strength/weakness, there is a tendency to view the sexes instead through the lens of opposing yet complementary 'psychologies'. Within this frame of reference, women are women not so much because of a particular set of physical attributes, but rather because they are THE CONSTRUCTION OF LATIN YOUTH

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different from men on a mental level. Quite simply, their minds have been inscribed with a distinctly female attitude and personality, just as men have been 'programmed' to be responsible for and protective of women. Among the implications of this gender model is the belief that women and men's mental development (whether through social or physiological processes) produces minds that are in themselves incomplete, and hence in need of the complementarity afforded by someone of the opposite sex.

Not surprisingly, internalization of rational-scientific discourses is also fragmented along lines of gender and class. In Villa del Sol for example, there is a widespread tendency among young people to draw upon the language of psychology and psychoanalysis when defining themselves and those they know: people are homosexual because of their possessive mothers and sex is an art to be learned from sexologists. This is not the case in Villa del Mar. Science and technology enter less into the everyday lives of young people there, who tend to see force as the fundamental determinant of their community's development (or lack thereof). Needless to say, this view is not surprising when one considers the degree to which Villa del Mar's economy has been undermined by the restructuring of the commercial fishery in the area. As a way of coping with the hardships this has caused, young people turn increasingly to essentialism: men are men because of their penises; it does not matter that they are unable to find work and provide for their families. Similarly, women are women because they give birth to babies, with large families proving to the community they are both fertile and productive.

Internalization, resistance and counter-hegemonic discourse

Having briefly discussed the three dominant sexual discourses in the context of Villa del Mar and Villa del Sol, one must now ask oneself how they come to be internalized by young p eople.

As one might imagine, the most important form of 'teaching' is through repetition, with the tenets of orthodox discourses repeated over and over again to the youth of each community, reinforced all the while by professional guardians of the orthodoxy, whose function is both to proselytize and ensure compliance. Moreover, young people who do transgress the limits of the discourse face a battery of punishments, including ostracism, enclosure, exile, stigmatization, violence and abandonment. Thus, most quickly learn (and internalize) the art of self-discipline, through self-censorship and invocation of the 'internal watchdog'.

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However, even as the oppressive weight of hegemonic discourses is brought to bear upon young people, contradictions among and within the latter serve to blunt their impact. That is to say, each seeks to impose its own 'rules of the game', with individuals forced to choose among varying norms and practices. In turn, these contradictions break up logic of all of the discourses, awakening scepticism and disbelief among young people, and inducing them to turn to alternative discursive practices. Three alternatives stand out as particularly significant in this regard, and we have labeled these discourses 'erotic', 'romantic' and 'feminist' respectively.

Significantly, even though the latter advocate principles which differ and contradict with one another, the sexual models they are grounded in are symmetrical rather than hierarchical in orientation. Moreover, it should be noted that, despite being open to manipulation by hegemonic forces ( ie. the Church, state agencies), the origins of these alternative discourses lie in the grassroots, and hence largely outside of the aegis of state or Church power.

Contradictions between dominant and alternative discourses, as well as within each discourse itself, are conditioned by class and gender. Thus, in Villa del Mar, where young people endeavour to resolve their problems with the tools at their disposal (namely religion and their bodies), religious, erotic and romantic discourses are predominant. Meanwhile, in middle-class Villa del Sol, the power of religion and magic is weakened, with youth drawing far more heavily upon the discourses of feminism and science.

As for the relevance of gender, it is clear that young women are far more sensitive to the contradictions and injustice of institutionalized sexism than are men, who benefit personally and collectively from its operation. However, women do not all respond in similar fashion to such sexism: while those with more resources at their disposal have for the most part internalized the tenets of liberal feminism, poorer women tend to use their bodies to fight sexual oppression, withholding their affection or walking away from abusive relationships.

Sexual discourses and HIV infection

However, as important as the findings outlined above may be, one question remains largely unanswered: how do the sexual cultures of Costa Rican youth contribute to the spread HIV/AIDS within this population? We address this issue in detail in the paragraphs that follow.

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Censorship

As has been touched upon above, there are already several sexual discourses in Costa Rica competing for young people's souls and minds. By failing to teach sex education in the country's secondary schools, not only do adolescents have one less tool with which to make sense of their sexuality, but they are effectively prevented from questioning and analyzing the contradictions facing them. Moreover, by divorcing science from sexuality, information on effective means of preventing HIV infection or unwanted pregnancies loses much of its authority, and youth are forced to seek out other sources of information, such as that derived from the prejudices of organized religions.

Internal watchdog

The exercise of self-discipline (the 'internal watchdog') is another means of silencing contradictions and resistance, with young people taught to police their own behaviour, thereby diminishing the need for coercive force. As one imagine, self-regulation of this sort has a negative impact upon adolescents' sexuality, causing them to forget or deny particular sexual experiences. However, if individuals are to develop to their full capacity, they need to be able to learn from past actions and mistakes.

Magical-religious thought

In many cases, the proponents of hegemonic discourses attempt to erase contradictions by demanding that individuals engage in autos da fé, in other words that they accept discursive premises on the basis of faith alone. In effect, these moves invoke supernatural explanations for natural events, 'resolving' contradictions and tensions by placing them outside of the human realm and in that of magic-religious thought. However, this serves to discourage logical thinking at precisely those times when young people need it most, for example when they are about to engage in an activity that places them at high risk of HIV infection.

Compartmentalization

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Moreover, young people also attempt to address conflicts and discrepancies in sexual discourses through a process of compartmentalization. What does this mean? Quite simply, rather than rejecting contradictory behaviour and values out of hand, they are placed in separate mental categories, where they co-exist in segregation from one another. In this way, behaviour becomes dependent upon the company or situation in which one finds oneself, with individuals losing awareness of the contradictory nature of their actions. Of course, one of the dangers of this response is that it causes young people to undergo radical transformations and mood changes merely by virtue of moving from one locale or situation to another.

Escapism and unrealistic mechanisms for solutions

Escapism is another means by which young people attempt to deal with the proliferation of conflicting discourses. Substance use, music and dance are all examples of escapist activities.

However, not only do they risk becoming addictive, but many are co-factors in HIV infections as well.

Conclusions

If AIDS prevention programmes are to be effective, adequate account must be taken both of differences in sexual culture, and the role of gender and class in producing such differences.

Inasmuch as each sub-population responds in a distinct manner to particular events and conditions, it is unrealistic to expect a universal prevention campaign to be effective. Instead, each community should have its own prevention programme, with an explicit attempt made to represent majorities and minorities, conformists and dissidents.

Although young people and community leaders are aware of the existence of contradictory ideas about sexuality, they are wrong to assume that these are restricted to the depictions of the mass media on the one hand, and the moral messages of the Roman Catholic Church on the other. Since it is a common feature of all discourses to seek to hide their socio-cultural roots through recourse to essentialism, they are not constructions that lend themselves to ready analysis and questioning. However, when young people are shown that there are different THE CONSTRUCTION OF LATIN YOUTH

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discourses each with its own 'rules of the game', and that analytical thinking affords them the opportunity to choose alternatives wisely, discourses lose much of their power to command unquestioning loyalty and acceptance.

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II

Background

Costa Rica gained its independence in 1821, having been part of the Spanish empire for close to three centuries. At the time of initial contact with the European colonizers, the indigenous population of what is now Costa Rica did not exceed 25,000 (Thiel 1977), making it one of the most sparsely populated regions of Central America.

During much of the colonial period, Roman Catholicism enjoyed a monopoly over the minds and souls of the country‟s inhabitants, as it was the only religion tolerated by Costa Rica's Spanish rulers. At the economic level, the era of Spanish rule were characterized most notably by chronic poverty, with a lack of human resources and mineral wealth ensuring that there was little in the way of sustained growth at this time. While the country's peasant-based economy did establish sporadic links with the world market thanks to crops such as cocoa and tobacco (Roses 1975; Acuña 1978), it was not until the mid-nineteenth century, with the advent of widespread coffee cultivation, that Costa Rica was integrated into the global chain of commodity production and consumption on a more permanent basis (Hall 1982; Cardoso and Pérez 1977).

However, despite the undoubted contribution made by coffee to Costa Rica‟s economic growth, it also served to make the country extremely vulnerable to the boom and bust cycle of the world commodity market. Still, there can be little question that the existence of an agricultural frontier zone until roughly the middle of the twentieth century contributed to the emergence of a large middle class and to the establishment of a democratic tradition that was interrupted only twice in this century. In 1948, fol owing the second of these interruptions, Costa Rica‟s government abolished its armed forces.

In this way, the country was able to weave a social fabric in which polarization and anomie were never permitted to reach the levels seen in other parts of Central America, where military dictatorship was the rule rather than the exception. Moreover, the programme of social reform first embarked upon by the government of Calderón Guardia in the 1940s, subsequently deepened and strengthened by Jose Figueres Ferrer's Social Democratic Party, laid the groundwork for a welfare state that put Costa Rica on par with First World countries in such areas as literacy and health. Also in the post-war period, government policies of import THE CONSTRUCTION OF LATIN YOUTH

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substitution galvanized the industrial sector while attracting large numbers of European immigrants, whose presence contributed in turn to an expansion of the country‟s ethnic and religious mix. At present, roughly 85 percent of Costa Rica‟s population cal s itself Roman Catholic, while the balance self-identify with a range of Protestant and non-Christian religions.

Sex education in Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, the Ministry of Public Education has attempted to promote sex education in schools through its „Population Education Project‟. However, despite receiving funding - and support - from UNESCO and the United Nations Fund for Population Development, the Ministry has been forced to contend with sustained opposition on the part of the Roman Catholic Church.

Church authorities argue that educational materials dealing with sex education contain a number of „moral irregularities‟, and thus have demanded not only that Church views on premarital sex, abortion and birth control be included in the text, but that the materials themselves only be distributed by teachers of religion.

It is against this background that the Ministry of Education has made repeated attempts (since 1995) to produce an acceptable series of sex education manuals; yet even now one can scarcely claim that the Ministry has a viable programme in place. In short, not only are teachers‟ use of the manuals voluntary, but they are more a teaching aid than anything else.

Moreover, even though they contain information that could potentially be useful to all educators, their structure is such that they are used primarily by teachers involved in orientation, home education, religious instruction and science (Valerio 1994).

What this means in effect is that sex education is not compulsory in Costa Rican secondary schools, and that its presence in the curriculum is dependent upon individuals schools and teachers. Of course, not helping matters is the fact that arguments for and against sex education are highly polarized: while those in favour claim that it helps young people to sort out their problems, opponents believe that it serves principally to promote sexual activity. However, THE CONSTRUCTION OF LATIN YOUTH

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despite the latter claims, not only has research into the matter failed to establish a link between sex education and promiscuity or early onset of sexual activity (Stycos 1987; Madrigal and Schifter 1990), but some have even argued that individuals who are not exposed to such instruction tend to undergo sexual initiation at a younger age, since they do not have the tools with which to make informed decisions (Madrigal and Schifter 1990).

Sexuality and young people2

For a snapshot of Costa Rican sexual practices, consider the following data: 42 percent of births take place outside of marriage; 18 percent of unwed mothers are 19 years of age or younger; almost one half of pregnancies are unwanted; on average, 20 percent of marriages end in divorce; 35 percent of women have been subjected to physical or psychological abuse by their partner; 27 percent of university students report being victims of child sexual assault; and Costa Rican physicians perform roughly 5,000 abortions annually (Madrigal et al. 1992; Cover 1995; Brenes 1995).

2

Most of the statistical data used in this section, and in the following one, are drawn from Madrigal and Schifter (1990).

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Needless to say, these figures are indicative of several key features of Costa Rican sexuality.

Although it is not the purpose of the present study to undertake a definitive analysis of the matter, some context is crucial if one is to understand that which follows. With this end in mind, we draw upon the findings from some of our earlier work in the area of sexuality.

In the first instance, with regard to young people‟s sources of information about sex, the First National Survey on AIDS shows quite clearly that, for almost half of young male respondents (15 to 24 years), the street was where most of their sex „education‟ took place. The situation is somewhat different for young women, with home (34 percent) and school (26 percent) comprising the principal sources of information for this group. Other sources of information for both males and females are books, magazines and newspapers (seven percent for young men and eight percent for young women), and the mass media (seven and eight percent, respectively).

Moreover, despite the fact that there is no well-defined national policy on sex education in place in Costa Rica, there is nonetheless a high proportion of young people who are receiving some formal instruction on sex-related matters, including sexual organs (90 percent); childbirth, contraceptives, sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), menstruation and teenage pregnancy (70

percent) and HIV/AIDS (55 percent). Still, it is also clear that much of this instruction is traditional in its approach, with far greater emphasis on biology than psychology, and with little attempt made to speak directly to young people‟s concerns. Furthermore, because of dominant prejudices, there is a tendency to restrict STD instruction to young males and information about the menstrual cycle and pregnancy to young females.

As one might imagine, not only does this state of affairs serve to reinforce the already strongly sexist character of Costa Rican society, but it leaves youth ignorant of many of the basic elements of sexuality. For example, approximately 40 percent of young people do not know whether a girl is able to conceive after her first menstruation, and only 30 percent of respondents can accurately describe when in the menstrual cycle a woman is most likely to be fertile. Moreover, it is obvious as well that large numbers of young people have fallen prey to sexual myths, with more than half of male and female respondents indicating that they believe masturbation to be harmful to their health and that vaccinations exist to prevent STD infection.

Indeed, there are a surprising number of young people (44 percent of males and 29 percent of females) who believe as well that there are special substances which may be used to make people fall madly in love. Of course, given the preponderance of these beliefs, it is not THE CONSTRUCTION OF LATIN YOUTH

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particularly surprising that many young men and women have their first sexual experience at an early age.

As for the question of whom young people talk to about sex, our research has shown that young men tend to confide mainly in their friends and classmates (64 percent), while only seven percent discuss sexual issues with their parents. Young women by contrast tend to be more communicative, confiding in their mothers (29 percent), husbands (27 percent) and friends and classmates (23 percent). With regard to the level of intimacy in these discussions, one finds that it is generally low between fathers and their children (less than 35 percent for males and less than 20 percent for females), and highest between mothers and daughters, and between male respondents and their male friends or classmates.

Risk of HIV infection through sexual contact

Young people run the risk of HIV infection from the moment they become sexually active. For men, average age of initiation is 16, with as many as 25 percent of boys having their first sexual experience at age 14 or younger. Their first partner is usually a female acquaintance or girlfriend who is on average five years older than they themselves. In the case of women, average age of sexual initiation is 19, and usually takes place with a man is who is five or six years older than they are, and who is generally their fiancé, boy-friend or husband.

Only 13 percent of men and 18 percent of women report using some form of contraceptive during their first sexual encounter. As for the incidence of condom use, the figures are even more discouraging: for both men and women, it is practically nil.

In terms of AIDS awareness, although one might argue that the population in general is well-informed, youth in particular are not. For instance, almost half of young men do not realize that an individual can be HIV positive for more than five years without becoming ill, while fully one quarter of them do not know that AIDS is a life-threatening disease. While there is some evidence to suggest that young women are better informed than their male counterparts, it is clear that they suffer as well from a number of misconceptions. Most notably, almost three THE CONSTRUCTION OF LATIN YOUTH

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quarters of them do not know that mutual masturbation is a form of safe sex (as compared with 54 percent of young males), while 44 percent are ignorant of the fact that condom use lessens the likelihood of HIV infection (versus 12 percent for young men).

Of course, given the latter findings, one is not particularly surprised to learn that only 25 percent of sexually active males, and 16 percent of sexually active females, use condoms on a regular basis. The numbers become even more alarming when one turns to younger women, who are the least likely of all segments of the population to make regular use of condoms. Moreover, among youth who do engage in condom use, almost half report being dissatisfied with them, and indicate that they would prefer to use another form of family planning, were it available.

Taken together, the findings outlined above provide ample evidence in support of a proactive stance on AIDS prevention for young people, and all the more so when one considers the fact that every month 27 percent of males and 17 percent of females between the ages of 20 and 24

take part in forms of sexual activity which place them at risk of HIV infection.

Communities studied

As has already been made clear above, the present study seeks to explore young people‟s sexual cultures through a comparative analysis of two communities with widely variant socio-economic backgrounds. Having considered several options, we finally decided upon two candidates: Villa del Sol, in the centre of the country, and Villa del Mar, on the seacoast.

Of course, in this regard it bears emphasis that the task of choosing appropriate communities for comparison and study was made that much more difficult by the lack of readily comparable data. In short, not only were we faced with the fact that there has been no population or housing census carried out in Costa Rica since 1984, but, in many areas where useful data are available (such as birth and death registries; use of health care services), they are not available at the community level.

Villa del Sol extends over five square kilometres and its population was estimated to be 8,000 in 1993. Although there are no official figures available that provide details of Vil a del Mar‟s THE CONSTRUCTION OF LATIN YOUTH

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geography, we estimate its size to be roughly equivalent to that of Villa del Sol, while the most recent population estimates suggest that it had 14,200 inhabitants in 1994. Moreover, according to health clinic staff in the two communities, youth (between 10 and 19 years of age) make up approximately 18 percent of Vil a del Sol‟s population, and 24 percent of that of Vil a del Mar.

As for the nature of the communities‟ economic base, official employment statistics indicate that 20 percent of Vil a del Sol‟s working population was engaged in handicrafts and cottage industries; 19 percent in livestock farming; 17 percent in services; ten percent in trade and sales; nine percent in professional categories; eight percent in the public sector or independent enterprises; and smaller percentages in a number of other sectors, including transportation, management and administration. Moreover, as these figures suggest, the town enjoys considerable diversity in economic activity, a finding that stands in sharp contrast to Villa del Mar. Although there are no quantitative data available, it is clear that employment is for the most part concentrated in farming, animal husbandry, fishing, retail trade, tourism and other maritime occupations. With regard to retail trade in particular, it is focused primarily upon the operation of taverns, grocery stores and clothing boutiques.

While one is left to assume that unemployment is low in Villa del Sol (there are no official figures available), owing to the diversity of its economic base, as many as 46 percent of Vil a del Mar‟s able-bodied inhabitants are out of work. Needless to say, widespread joblessness does not lend itself to harmonious social relations.

How to explain these differences? Without wishing to suggest that this is the only factor at work, it is nonetheless clear that the two communities are characterized by widely disparate histories. Villa del Mar is less than 40 years old, and was established through forced migration from overcrowded urban areas. By contrast, not only does Villa del Sol owe its growth to an earlier phase of (voluntary) immigration, but it has had much longer to develop its livestock farming, handicrafts and industrial sectors.

Turning to matters of health care, data provided by local clinic staff suggest that Vil a del Mar‟s population is far more prone to illnesses related to poverty and unhygienic conditions than is the case for inhabitants of Villa del Sol. Needless to say, sewage and drainage systems in Villa del Mar provide insufficient capacity, particularly in the rainy season, and its health care resources are less than adequate given the needs of the population. Moreover, these problems are THE CONSTRUCTION OF LATIN YOUTH

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aggravated by widespread drug addiction, alcoholism and family violence in the town, which community leaders blame on chronically high rates of local unemployment.

Although no comparative data are available for literacy, primary school attendance is deemed to be high for boys and girls in both communities. However, one assumes that attendance rates become increasingly divergent in secondary and post-secondary school. As community leaders in Villa del Mar pointed out, a large proportion of teenagers drop out prematurely, owing to such problems as low family income, marital break-up, substance abuse and prostitution.

Moreover, family characteristics also differ for each community. In Villa del Sol, the nuclear family remains the predominant model, with the majority of households characterized by the presence of both parents. This is not the case in Villa del Mar, where a social worker reported to us that three out of every four households were headed by women only. Furthermore, if one includes in this figure families where the male parent is away for extended periods of time on account of fishing or other out of town of work commitments, the proportion of female single-parent families becomes even higher.

Also worthy of note in this regard is the wide disparity in religious practice. Despite the presence in the town of ten Protestants churches, it is obvious that Villa del Sol is a predominantly Roman Catholic community. Not only does it have 12 Catholic churches, but saints‟ feast days and high holidays invariably attract large crowds of devout worshipers. By contrast, in Villa del Mar the situation is quite different: Evangelical and Baptist churches predominate, while Roman Catholic ones are in the minority. While acknowledging that the number of churches is not necessarily the best predictor of number of worshipers, one might nonetheless argue that Protestant fundamentalism is a considerably more potent force in Villa del Mar than it is in Villa del Sol.

Life in the communities

Vil a del Sol‟s rapid urban growth is made al the more obvious when compared with the wide tracts of rural hinterland that surround it. Moreover, trade with this hinterland is clearly of great THE CONSTRUCTION OF LATIN YOUTH

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importance to the town‟s economy, as is attested to by the large number of grocery stores (48), supermarkets, mini-markets, and suppliers (30), hardware stores, woodworking and automobile repair shops (96), restaurants and fast-food eateries (45), vegetable and fruit markets, flower shops and tree nurseries (22), meat markets and farm accessory stores (17), liquor merchants (14), bakeries (10), and beauty salons (16), among others.

Not surprisingly, there is far less evidence of prosperity in Villa del Mar. Although there are some paved roads in the town, most are either gravel or dirt. Retail trade employs far fewer people, and contributes much less to the community‟s tax base: in stark contrast with Villa del Sol, there are only 21 grocery stores, two suppliers, three general stores, one automobile repair shop, six restaurants, and one meat market.

The respective wealth of each community can also be seen in the different types of housing construction. In Villa del Mar, most houses are made out of wood, and many are old and dilapidated. Moreover, where brick homes do exist, they were for the most part built with monies provided by the National Institute of Housing and Urban Development. However, even here the houses are in a poor state of repair, mostly because their occupants lack the necessary resources to maintain or enlarge them. Needless to say, this in turn has contributed to overcrowded conditions, with large families sharing very small quarters. As in other areas, the contrast with Villa del Sol is obvious. Here, most of the homes are of brick and in good condition, though admittedly there are some neighborhoods where housing stock is of lower quality.

Another significant difference between Villa del Sol and Villa del Mar resides in the outlook of community members. In the latter case, people are generally open and friendly. As one walks down the street, one is often engaged in conversation or invited into someone‟s home.

Moreover, its hot, humid climate ensures that people dress in lightweight clothing, and bodies are exhibited with less inhibition. Women tend to wear low cut or halter tops, together with shorts and sandals. Men often go shirtless, clothed only in Bermuda shorts. Boys and girls are generally found barefoot, wearing identical styles of clothing.

In Villa del Sol, people are far more reserved and tend to be distrustful of strangers. They are loathe to invite those they do not know into their homes, and it is difficult as a stranger to make friends or contacts. The style of dress is also more conservative ; bodies tend to be covered up, THE CONSTRUCTION OF LATIN YOUTH

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despite the warmth of the weather Most community members are practicing Roman Catholics, with much of the town‟s social calendar revolving around the Church and saints‟ feast days and, for young people in particular, around the Boy Scouts or religious youth groups. In short, this is a community whose guiding principles are dictated by the Roman Catholic Church, and whose people are reluctant to cross their parish priest for fear of the social condemnation this may engender.

As for patterns of socialization in the two towns, one is immediately struck by the degree to which men and women in Villa del Mar form segregated, single sex groups, with the beach being one of the few locales where there is widespread mixing among the sexes. Aggression and teasing are common among groups of men. As for women, they are seldom seen in large group settings, since, as one participant explained, „it is very difficult to communicate with girlfriends because they‟re usual y trying to do you in, especial y when there‟s a man involved.‟

While there appears to be more interaction between the sexes in Villa del Sol, with mixed groups of males and females readily observable on the street, it is nonetheless clear that they share many of the same communication problems faced by young people in Villa del Mar.

Moreover, the two communities are also characterized by considerable variation in their leisure spaces. In Villa del Mar, the beach and city plazas are by far the most popular places in which to congregate. Moreover, on weekends, young people tend to go to the beach during the day and to one of the town‟s discotheques at night. In Vil a del Sol, by contrast, young people spend most of their leisure time in nearby San José, though some can also be found in one of the town‟s two local dance clubs.

Turning to matters of sex and reproduction, although little comparative data is readily available, birth registries show that young women under the age of 20 account for a significantly higher proportion of births in Villa del Mar (27 percent) than is the case in Villa del Sol (18 percent), thereby placing the community far above the national average for teenage pregnancies.

Moreover, at a purely anecdotal level, it should be noted that one often encounters pregnant adolescent girls on the streets of Villa del Mar, a sight that is comparatively rare in Villa del Sol.

Of course, given these observations, one is not surprised to learn that early marriage (either de facto or de jure) due to pregnancy is commonplace in Villa del Mar, a finding confirmed by project ethnographers, and which stands in sharp contrast to Villa del Sol, where cohabitation by young people is relatively rare.

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Sexual contexts

As one might imagine, Villa del Sol and Villa del Mar offer their young people widely divergent possibilities in the sexual realm. In the case of Villa del Sol, its proximity to the San José metropolitan area, with a population of close to a million, ensures that its youth have no shortage of opportunities for fraternizing with prospective sexual partners, whether in bars, discos, brothels, athletic clubs, private parties or movie theatres. Moreover, it is clear that their own community also provides ample scope for socialization, with young people meeting each other at church functions, or in coffee houses, parks and billiard halls. On Sunday evenings in particular, many young people can be found in the city square, where they mingle with their friends and seek out appropriate partners. However, it should be noted that the same does not apply to Vil a del Sol‟s gays and lesbians, who tend to travel to San José for their leisure activities, rather than run the risk of being spotted by someone they know.

Moreover, as one strol s around the town‟s main square in the evening, one is immediately struck by the number of young couples holding hands or kissing, while groups of adolescent boys and girls congregate in front of the church‟s main gate. Other popular hang-outs for young people are the town‟s many coffee houses („ sodas‟ in local parlance), which serve as fast food eateries during the day, and social centres in the evening. Young couples come to chat with friends or each other, while unattached adolescents gather together at the larger tables.

As the evening progresses, couples make their way to the municipal park, which is poorly lit and hence ideal for those wishing to engage in sexual intercourse without being seen. Also popular in this regard is the dark area behind the church, where couples come to fondle one another and have sex.

While Villa del Mar is also close to a large urban centre, the latter is considerably smaller than San José (it is roughly one tenth its size), and hence characterized by significantly fewer social establishments. However, as one of Costa Rica‟s principal port cities, it does have more than its share of bars and brothels, which serves to reinforce its reputation as a sexual Mecca for those living in nearby towns and villages.

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As for Villa del Mar itself, there are relatively few places for young people to meet and interact, and certainly far fewer bars, parks and billiard halls than Villa del Sol. However, the town d oes have a long, attractive beach; it is used as a meeting-place during the day and a place for discrete love-making at night.

While the above discussion might lead one to conclude that there is not really that much to differentiate the sexual geographies of the two communities, those differences that do exist are significant, and hold important implications for the sexual lives of the young people involved.

Particularly salient in this regard is the fact that while Villa del Sol has many well-defined leisure spaces ( ie. coffee houses, the city square and so forth), in Vil a del Sol young people‟s principal hang-out is the street itself, which leaves adults with little scope to monitor or control the activities of their children.

Needless to say, there are certain dangers inherent in young people‟s use of the street in this way. Not only is there is little oversight by police or other authority figures, but the threat of violence (including sexual violence) is omnipresent. Moreover, the fact that the street is shared with a large population of pushers and addicts ensures that drugs, including crack cocaine, are always available to those who are tempted to try them. Also relevant in this regard are the large number of foreign tourists who come to the town, attracted by its tropical mystique and „exotic‟

young bodies. Thus, there is always scope for young people of both sexes to earn some extra money by providing sexual services to foreigners staying in town. As one might imagine, there are no such possibilities in Villa del Sol, where community vigilance and a suspicion of strangers serve to dissuade outsiders from attempting to proposition or sell drugs to the young people of the town.

In the discussion above, reference has already been made to the sexual anonymity that San José affords to the youth of Villa del Sol. Should they wish to find a gay lover, harass transvestites dressed in drag, or take part in a discrete affair, they need merely board a bus, safe in the assumption that their friends and family back home will never find out. Such anonymity is unheard of in Villa del Mar, where young people can be sure that news of their every move, their every sexual peccadillo will eventually get back to those they know. Thus, there is little scope for girls to practice prostitution or gays and lesbians to meet prospective mates without it becoming common knowledge.

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Of course, one of the consequences of this state of affairs is the fact that young people in Villa del Mar cannot help but be exposed to a wide range of human sexual activity. That is to say, not only do many of them enjoy personal acquaintance with child molesters, transvestites, gay men, lesbians, cacheros 3, pimps and sex trade workers, but they are likely to be more tolerant of sexual difference as a result. This stands in marked contrast to Vil a del Sol, where one‟s sexual predilections are kept well-hidden, and young people are unlikely ever to meet an openly gay individual. Needless to say, the apparent absence of sexual „deviance‟ from the community serves to create an environment ripe for the condemnation and criticism of sexual „others‟.

Moreover, in Villa del Mar the home itself becomes a site imbued with youthful sexual practice, a product of the frequency with which children are left alone by working mothers and absentee fathers. Needless to say, not only does this provide young people with the opportunity to engage in illicit affairs, but it also facilitates sexual abuse by family members. This is less the case in Villa del Sol, where the nuclear family remains the norm, and stay-at-home mothers limit the scope for sexual activity of any sort.

Similar differences are observable in the communities‟ respective high schools. In Vil a del Mar for example, where relatively little stock is placed in formal education, young people tend to see secondary school primarily as a prelude to work or marriage (certainly not university), with adolescent girls in particular hoping that it will provide a venue for meeting their husband-to-be, and hence an opportunity to leave their parents‟ home. As one might imagine, this orientation renders female high school students in Villa del Mar far more likely to engage in sex with their male counterparts than is the case in Villa del Sol. Here, most young women (and young men) expect to carry on with their education beyond the secondary level, and hence are extremely leery of any sexual relationship that may result in an unplanned pregnancy. In this way, both women and men tend to be quite careful in the exercise of their sexual choices, and generally do not establish strong emotional bonds during the course of their high school years.

3

Cachero‟ is a term used to describe men who have sex with other men, yet self-identify as heterosexual.

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III

Methodology

Organization of the study

Initiated by the ILPES Research Department in January 1994, the present study was undertaken over a two year period, with the final report being completed in December 1995.

Figure 1 summarizes the structure of the research team.

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