Extramarital Relationships in the Vietnamese Migrant Community in Laos

Culture, Health & Sexuality, 2019, 22(3): 261-274 (avec Tam Nguyen)

Undocumented migration from Central Vietnam to Laos stretches Vietnamese families and generates marital tensions and social anxieties around the extramarital relationships that migrant hus bands establish with v ợ hau (second wives), an emic term that encompasses mistresses and more stable partners. This paper sheds light on these processes via an ethnographic study on how migration from Central Vietnam to Savannakhet – a town located in Central Laos bordering Thailand – shapes family formation, marital relationships and double standards in gender and sexuality. It argues that husbands and first and second wives manage these issues by preserving family integrity, negotiating extramarital relationships and retreating from marriage. These strategies are shaped by and constitutive of normative double standards that families refer to, reinforce and in some cases transcend to make sense of the marital challenges and disruptions caused by dislocation, translocality and the intrusion of second wives in their marriages. Overall, the study emphasises that families remain committed to a domestic division of labour and to the institutions of marriage and family, albeit with some adjustments. This argument resonates with broader discussions about migration, gender and sexuality in Vietnam.