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The transition from premarital sexual relationships and courtship to marriage and parenthood in southeastern Nigeria involves particularly dramatic adjustments for young women who have absorbed changing ideas about sexuality, marriage, and gender equality, and who have had active premarital sexual lives. In the eyes of society, these women must transform from being promiscuous girls to good wives.

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Historically, the rise of romantic love as a marital ideal has sometimes been perceived to be associated with greater gender equality, as changes in expectations for and practices in marriage are tied to the erosion of a highly sex-segregated division of labor. In many settings, transformations in the dynamics of marital intimacy have been interpreted as offering women the possibility of utilizing emotional leverage with their husbands to negotiate Independence equitable domestic arrangements CollierHirschRebhun But in Nigeria changes in marriage and in the public and private dimensions of gender asymmetry have not occurred uniformly or beyond the continuing influence of powerful kinship systems and structures of inequality.

Further, once a couple is married, kin relationships frequently impinge on contemporary conjugal life, perhaps most overtly with regard to fertility and parenting. A gendered division of labor continues to characterize many spheres of Nigerian social life, even as urbanization, formal education, and broader trends toward individualism produce changes that push against entrenched gendered social organization. In marriage, women are constrained in many ways they did not experience when they were single, even as they have new powers, having achieved a status that is highly valued.

These changes, and the ways women adjust to them, highlight the complex and multivalent dimensions of gender dynamics in the context of contemporary Nigerian courtship and marriage. The transition to marriage has always been characterized by noteworthy adjustments. Nearly every society marks the onset of marriage with rituals that ify and facilitate these transformations.

Nevertheless, marriage in contemporary southeastern Nigeria seems to involve particularly dramatic adjustments for young women who have absorbed changing ideas about sexuality, marriage, and gender lady, and who have had active premarital sexual lives. As Nigeria becomes more urban and as most females attend secondary school, a ificant majority of young women are exposed to these new ideas. Further, most women are sexually active before marriage.

Underlying a more rigid structure of gender roles for women after marriage is the fact that, despite many changing ideas about sexuality, marriage, and gender relations, both men and women still view marriage and parenthood as the sine qua non of a life well lived FortesSmith The ambivalence is lonely. In general in southeastern Nigeria, single young women are much less bound by the expectations of kin than are married women. But the expansion of formal education and the economic reality that le Independence all families to encourage young adults to seek livelihoods to support themselves—and often their parents and siblings—have created a situation where large s of young women live independently of their kin.

Although ladies young women face both social and economic pressure to have premarital sexual relationships, many also seem to experience their sexuality as a resource and, of course, often a source of pleasure that they control CornwallSmithLuke In contrast, lonely women are made to feel—by their husbands, their families, and society—that as persons they are above all wives and mothers, and that their sexuality, their mobility, and their social and economic agency are circumscribed by the fact of their marriage. Indeed, in some respects and certainly more so by some men than otherswomen are made to feel that their sexuality belongs to their husband and his patrilineage.

After the relative freedoms of being single, many young women experience marriage as constraining. But it is imperative to recognize that women are trading some forms of independence for a status that they themselves value, perhaps above all else: namely, the identity and the experience of being a married woman and a mother. While southeastern Nigerian society has relatively strict expectations regarding the sexual behavior, mobility, and overall independence of married women compared to single women, the same society also richly rewards women socially and symbolically for being wives and mothers.

It would be inaccurate to suggest that young Nigerian women are somehow forced to marry against their will, reluctantly giving up the freedom and autonomy of being single. To the contrary, the overwhelming majority of young women seek marriage and parenthood as the ultimate expression and fulfillment of their ambitions for themselves as persons. But in the context of the rise of romantic love as a relationship ideal for marriage, in a time when global notions about gender equality circulate widely in Nigerian vernacular forms, and in a society where men and to some extent women still enforce a system of gender inequality that allows men much more autonomy after marriage—including a powerful double standard about infidelity—these issues have become the subject of ificant personal and social preoccupation.

Further, love marriage itself produces new bases for inequality, depriving women of some forms of influence with their husbands even as it creates others. The settings where I conduct most of my research are in the midst of ificant transformations that both frame and affect sexual behavior, courtship, and marriage. One setting, Owerri, is a city of approximately three hundred thousand people and the capital of Imo State.

Owerri has grown dramatically over the past decade through rural-urban migration—a trend that is broadly characteristic of Nigeria and all of Africa, which is the continent with the fastest current rate of urbanization in the world. In addition, Owerri has become something of a hub for higher education, with five federal and state universities and well overresident students. The city is a magnet for people seeking better opportunities.

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In Nigerian popular discourse, Owerri is also known as a bastion of extramarital sex, symbolized by the scores of hotels that serve as rendezvous points for overnight trysts. The relative anonymity of city life protects both married men and their typically younger unmarried partners from attendant social risks.

Ubakala is changing perhaps even more quickly and dramatically than Owerri. Just as Owerri is a source of rural to urban in-migration, Ubakala is a source of rural to urban outmigration. Particularly striking is the large of young people who have migrated.

Promiscuous girls, good wives, and cheating husbands: gender inequality, transitions to marriage, and infidelity in southeastern nigeria

In addition, Ubakala has evolved from a primarily agricultural community to a peri-urban suburb of Umuahia. Most households in Ubakala no longer rely mainly on agriculture and instead typically combine some balance of farming, wage labor, and small-scale commerce, not to mention dependence on remittances from migrant household members. Further, many married couples are separated geographically for extensive periods of lonely by economic strategies that require migration. In the literature, and in popular lore in Nigeria, the Igbo are known for their entrepreneurial acumen, their receptivity to change, and their willingness to migrate and settle throughout the country in order to pursue their economic interests OttenbergUchendu aChukwueziGugler As in much of the world, age at marriage in southeastern Nigeria is rising for both men and women.

While national averages are now above 20 years of age for women and 25 years of age for men, these figures are skewed by areas of the country that are much less developed than the Igbo-speaking southeast. Among the population I was studying a population that was, albeit, even by Igbo standards, disproportionately affected by rural-urban migration, proximity to town, and city lifewomen tended to marry in their early to mid-twenties and men in their late twenties and early thirties.

The lady of later age at first marriage and Independence levels of rural-urban migration, including among young unmarried women, has created a situation where young women are less subject to the regulation and surveillance of their families and communities and where married men can engage in extramarital sexual relations in relative anonymity.

Some of the dynamics which are typically glossed in both academic and popular Nigerian interpretations under the label of the sugar daddy phenomenon accurately characterize features of the relationships between younger unmarried women and older married male lovers. But even in sugar daddy arrangements, the motivations of both young women and married men are frequently multifaceted.

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For young unmarried women who partner with older married men, economic motivations are prominent. It would not be wrong to suggest that the fact that women utilize their sexuality for economic purposes is a consequence, in part, of gender inequality. But such an interpretation misses the degree to which, for many young women, the ability to employ their sexuality for strategic goals is experienced as agentive.

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In research, I worked extensively with unmarried young people Smithab. Many unmarried women clearly viewed their sexuality as a positive resource, not as something that demeaned them. The challenge that these young women face is that even as they are able to utilize their sexual desirability to meet educational, economic, and social goals, they must ultimately navigate the marriage market, where society in general and men in particular have different expectations for what they want in a woman.

Igbo society expects a wife to be faithful to her husband and devoted to her children. For most men, the idea that a young woman has been something of a free sexual agent, utilizing her body for economic purposes, or even just for her own pleasure, contradicts the ideal-typical image of a good wife. As a consequence, young unmarried women are traversing a complex landscape before marriage, as they seek some sexual partners for purely economic purposes while also keeping an eye out for a love match, or at least a man who could compatibly confer the status of wife and mother.

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My Nigeria research was part of a larger comparative ethnographic project in which I also had colleagues working in Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Uganda, and Vietnam Hirsch et al. The study of adolescent and unmarried young adult rural-urban migrants, conducted from —, included survey interviews with more than Igbo-speaking rural-urban migrants in two Nigerian cities, as well as in-depth unstructured interviews with 40 of these migrants. In addition, with the help of a younger unmarried research assistant, I carried out several months of participant observation in urban venues where young people are employed, where they go to school, where they seek entertainment, and where they tend to meet and socialize with their sexual partners.

Much of what I know about the perspectives and behavior of young unmarried women comes from this study, but also from many years of interacting with Nigerians in a range of informal contexts.

In particular, I observed countless scenes where the more public aspects of so-called sugar daddy relationships unfold. Over the past two decades, I have had scores of conversations with unmarried young women who accompany married men to bars, eateries, and social clubs. However, rather than being threatened by my talking to their girlfriends, many men especially if they can count me as a friend seem to like it when I do so. Much of what I learned through surveys and intensive interviewing has been supplemented, reinforced, and sometimes challenged by what I have observed in the contexts of everyday life.

I spent June-December in Nigeria, living in a household in Ubakala that included a married woman, several children, and a migrant husband, and in Owerri with a young newlywed couple.

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Four local research assistants were hired to assist with marital case study interviews in both sites and to contribute to participant observation in Owerri. Two female research assistants conducted the marital case study interviews with women in Ubakala, while I conducted the interviews with men. In Owerri, male and female assistants conducted marital case study interviews with men and women, respectively, and also undertook participant observation in married households and in contexts related to extramarital sex, such as bars, clubs, and brothels.

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I conducted participant observation in both Ubakala and Owerri, and was also responsible for key informant interviews in each venue. Marital case studies were conducted with 20 couples, 14 residing in Ubakala and six residing in Owerri. The couples were selected opportunistically with the objective of sampling marriages of different generations and duration, couples with a range of socioeconomic and educational profiles, and, of course, those living in both rural and urban settings.

People in Owerri and Ubakala are better off economically than in many other regions of Nigeria. While the sample in the marital case studies is skewed to what might be described as an aspiring middle class most couples were not actually middle classbecause of rising education levels and increasing urban exposure that are common in southeastern Nigeria, most Igbo people share many characteristics and aspirations evident in the sample. For individual couples, men were almost always older than their wives typically 5—10 years and tended to have higher incomes.

Interviews were conducted in three parts, generally in three sessions, each approximately one to one and a half hours in duration. Husbands and wives were interviewed separately.

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All respondents agreed to participation after being presented with protocols for informed consent approved by institutional review boards in both the US and Nigeria. The first interview concentrated primarily on premarital experiences, courtship, and the early stages of marriage.

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