Melissa Browning, Ph.D.
Atlanta, Georgia USA

Melissa Browning is a theologian, ethicist, and activist who studies congregational and community-based responses to injustice. Melissa teaches at McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University where she is the Assistant Professor of Contextual Ministry. For the past 17 years Melissa’s study and fieldwork has been tied to East Africa. Her recent book, "Risky Marriage: HIV and Intimate Relationships in Tanzania," builds on a year of fieldwork completed in Mwanza, Tanzania where women were asked to re-imagine Christian marriage as a space of safety and health for women. Melissa is also active in death penalty abolitionist work in Georgia and is an ordained Baptist minister.

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Abstinence Education and HIV and AIDS

By on September 7, 2013

“HIV/AIDS Prevention and Sexed Bodies: Rethinking Abstinence in Light of the African AIDS Pandemic,” Theology and Sexuality, Vol. 15.1, 2009: 27-46.


Botswana ABCAbstract 

As churches, non-profits, and governments look for solutions to end the African AIDS pandemic, abstinence has provided a seemingly quick and easy answer that is thought to carry moral weight. Yet abstinence, as it is preached and practised, is often an immoral option because it does not first consider the full agency of women. In asking why abstinence has been so readily embraced as a response to the African pandemic, assumptions of black sexuality must be brought into question. The tendency to focus on sexual morality rather than on the economic, gender, and social inequalities that cause the spread of AIDS must also be questioned. Through employing a postcolonial critique of abstinence, I argue that when abstinence as morality and abstinence as prevention collapse into one another, there is no space for women to find agency in abstinence. Instead, abstinence must be defined as “space” rather than “prohibition” in order for it to contribute to human flourishing.

use-condom-itchy-fishRelated Presentations

HIV/AIDS Prevention and Sexed Bodies: Rethinking Abstinence in Light of the African AIDS Pandemic, Women and Leadership Archives Lecture Series, Gannon Center for Women and Leadership, Chicago, IL, April 16, 2009.

HIV/AIDS Prevention and Sexed Bodies: Rethinking Abstinence in Light of the African AIDS Pandemic, Loyola University Chicago Interdisciplinary Research Symposium for Graduate School Students and Alumni, Chicago, IL, March 21, 2009. (Awarded “Best in Symposium”)


Download a PDF of the article here

With thanks to Theology and Sexuality, Equinox Publishing, for permission to post this article in this portfolio.