This paper compares three interpretations of women and the transmission of HIV in rural Malawi. One is disseminated world-wide by institutions with a global reach such as the World Health Organization in Geneva and United States Agency for International Development (USAID); the second is provided by urban Malawians situated in the capital of Lilongwe, the seat of government and the site of the many international and national non-governmental agencies; the third is articulated by rural women and men in Balaka District, Malawi. We focus on women’s motivations for extramarital sex, using qualitative interview data. We find that whereas in Geneva and Lilongwe women from rural Malawi are said to engage in sexual relationships outside of marriage because they need money for survival, in Balaka they are said to be motivated not only by money for survival but also for attractive consumer goods as well as by passion and by revenge for a husband’s infidelity. We also find that data collection procedures influence explanations for women’s affairs, as does the respondent’s gender. An implication of this study is that AIDS-prevention policies based on the view from Geneva and Lilongwe need modification for Balaka, and by implication for rural Africa more generally.