Sexuality, Color, and Stigma among Northeast Brazilian Women

Abstract

Despite its international image as a sexually free-spirited country, local attitudes toward morality of sexual behavior remain complex throughout Brazil, especially in rural areas and the conservative Northeast region. In addition, notwithstanding its official ideology of nonracism, African ancestry as judged through personal appearance (color) constitutes a significant social and economic disadvantage. Using Goffman’s idea of “spoiled identity” as a starting point, I show how locals use sexual behavior as a multivocal symbol of moral status in women, and how spoiled sexual reputation interacts with other stigmatized statuses, especially color. I also consider how the acquisition of sexually stigmatized status jeopardizes women’s well-being and that of their children.