Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

Heterosexual Africa?
The History of an Idea from the Age of Exploration to the Age of AIDS

By Marc Epprecht

Honorable Mention by the David Easton Award Committee, APSA · Finalist for the 2009 Herskovits Award for outstanding scholarly work published on Africa

“Epprecht’s own interview material and his close reading of a wide range of AIDS literature from across the continent reveals one terrifying fact: researchers have studied HIV/AIDS as a heterosexual disease in Africa because they have been told and have read that there is no homosexuality in Africa…. the assumption that Africa is a continent of heterosexual sex has been deadly for too many people for too long.”

Bulletin of the History of Medicine

“Epprecht’s argument—that imperialism ultimately brought homophobia to Africa, not an introduction of homosexual acts—has become an important tool for African LGBTI and human rights activists.”

International Socialist Journal

Heterosexual Africa? interrogates the silences of anthropologists who have failed to dispel the myths denying that alternative forms of sexual expression among Africans, particularly men’s same-sex relationships, formerly were tolerated in various societies.”

African Studies Review

“Marc Epprecht boldly challenges a whole series of boundaries and blind spots in the history of African scholarship. This book should make for valuable controversy—both intellectually and politically—in contemporary Africa.”

T. Dunbar Moodie, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Heterosexual Africa? The History of an Idea from the Age of Exploration to the Age of AIDS builds from Marc Epprecht’s previous book, Hungochani (which focuses explicitly on same-sex desire in southern Africa), to explore the historical processes by which a singular, heterosexual identity for Africa was constructed—by anthropologists, ethnopsychologists, colonial officials, African elites, and most recently, health care workers seeking to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This is an eloquently written, accessible book, based on a rich and diverse range of sources, that will find enthusiastic audiences in classrooms and in the general public.

Epprecht argues that Africans, just like people all over the world, have always had a range of sexualities and sexual identities. Over the course of the last two centuries, however, African societies south of the Sahara have come to be viewed as singularly heterosexual. Epprecht carefully traces the many routes by which this singularity, this heteronormativity, became a dominant culture. In telling a fascinating story that will surely generate lively debate, Epprecht makes his project speak to a range of literatures—queer theory, the new imperial history, African social history, queer and women’s studies, and biomedical literature on the HIV/AIDS pandemic. He does this with a light enough hand that his story is not bogged down by endless references to particular debates.

Heterosexual Africa? aims to understand an enduring stereotype about Africa and Africans. It asks how Africa came to be defined as a “homosexual-free zone” during the colonial era, and how this idea not only survived the transition to independence but flourished under conditions of globalization and early panicky responses to HIV/AIDS.

Marc Epprecht is associate professor in the departments of history and global development studies at Queen’s University. He is the 2006 winner of the Canadian Association of African Studies Joel Gregory Prize for his book Hungochani: The History of a Dissident Sexuality in Southern Africa. In 2009 he won the Desmond Tutu Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Study of Sexuality in Africa.   More info →

Order a print copy

Paperback · $27.96 ·
Add to Cart

Retail price: $34.95 · Save 20% ($27.96)

Hardcover · $64 ·
Add to Cart

Retail price: $80.00 · Save 20% ($64)

Buy from a local bookstore


US and Canada only

Buy an eBook

Amazon Kindle Store Barnes & Noble NOOK Google Play iBooks Store

Availability and price vary according to vendor.

Cover of Heterosexual Africa?

Share    Facebook icon  Email icon


Desk Copy Examination Copy Review Copy

Permission to reprint
Permission to photocopy or include in a course pack via Copyright Clearance Center


Retail price: $34.95, S.
Release date: August 2008
240 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights: World except Africa

Retail price: $80.00, S.
Release date: August 2008
240 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights: World except Africa

Release date: August 2008
240 pages
Rights: World except Africa

Additional Praise for Heterosexual Africa?

“This is a ground-breaking survey by an award-winning historian, a work of great significance for anyone interested in the study of sexuality in Africa…. Such work is essential for our understanding not only of African culture but, perhaps more immediately important, for our understanding of how violence, gender discrimination, and anxiety and ignorance about sexuality have impeded treatment of a health crisis of catastrophic and continental magnitude.”


“(Heterosexual Africa?) is a Kafkaesque labyrinth of the stories of researchers who either ignored evidence of African homosexuality or were blind to it or chose to suppress what they found due to homophobia (their own or that of their peers.”

The Gay & Lesbian Review

“This outstanding study will attract a significant readership among undergraduate and postgraduate students in the fields of African history, queer theory, anthropology, and postcolonial literature. Scholars and activists working in the field of HIV/AIDS will also be challenged and engaged by this book. I am convinced that Heterosexual Africa? will stimulate debate and inspire a rethinking of methods and models in African social history. It represents a significant, provocative, and at times controversial contribution to the field.”

Stephanie Newell, University of Sussex

Related Titles

Cover of 'Kampala Women Getting By'

Kampala Women Getting By
Wellbeing in the Time of AIDS
By Sandra Wallman

What do ordinary women in an African city do in the face of “serious enough” infections in themselves and signs of acute illness in their young children? How do they manage? What does it take to get by? How do they maintain the wellbeing of the household in a setting without what would be considered as basic health provision in an American or European city?Professor Wallman focuses on women in a densely-populated part of Kampala called Kamwokya.

Women’s Studies · Medical | Health Policy · HIV-AIDS · Sociology · African Studies · Childhood · Uganda

Cover of 'Transgressing Boundaries'

Transgressing Boundaries
New Directions in the Study of Culture in Africa
Edited by Brenda Cooper and Andrew Steyn

Transgressing Boundaries includes some of the most interesting debates informing cultural politics in South Africa today. To do so, it brings together renowned contributors from Africa, North America and the United Kingdom.The book questions the boundaries between the academic disciplines by incorporating literary studies with anthropology, history, archaeology, art and gender studies.

Anthropology · Sociology · African History · History · Literature · African Studies

Cover of 'The Children of Africa Confront AIDS'

The Children of Africa Confront AIDS
From Vulnerability to Possibility
Edited by Arvind Singhal and Steve Howard

The Children of Africa Confront AIDS depicts the reality of how African children deal with the AIDS epidemic, and how the discourse of their vulnerability affects acts of coping and courage. It describes HIV/AIDS in its macro context of the continent’s democratization movements and in its national contexts of civil conflict, rural poverty, youth organizations, and agencies working on the ground.

African History · HIV-AIDS · Children's Studies · Sociology · Medical | Health Policy · Africa · African Studies · Childhood

Cover of 'The African AIDS Epidemic'

The African AIDS Epidemic
A History
By John Iliffe

This history of the African AIDS epidemic is a much-needed, accessibly written historical account of the most serious epidemiological catastrophe of modern times. The African AIDS Epidemic: A History answers President Thabo Mbeki’s provocative question as to why Africa has suffered this terrible epidemic.While Mbeki attributed the causes to poverty and exploitation, others have looked to distinctive sexual systems practiced in African cultures and communities.

African History · HIV-AIDS · Medical | Health Policy · History | Modern | 20th Century · African Studies · Africa