This article explores the relationship between low levels of condom use and impoverished urban women's experiences and understandings of heterosexual relationships. It questions research that views poor women's conjugal affiliations and unsafe sex practices as instrumentally motivated, and demonstrates that many women see themselves as independent, relatively self-sufficient agents. HIV/AIDS-related risk denial is linked not to financial coercion but to the social and emotional importance of maintaining that one's partner is faithful. Extraconjugal support's relationship to women's dependence on men for emotional fulfillment, self-esteem, and social status is examined in light of this. Study participants who felt supported by extraconjugal networks were less likely to engage in denial and unsafe sex; they were also less likely to have partners whom they perceived as being jealous.

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