Why Is HIV/AIDS So Prevalent Among Black Gay Men?

Older partners, race loyalty and higher community viral load are factors, says study.  

Posted: 06/04/2013 11:13 PM EDT

We all know that HIV/AIDS rates among gay and bisexual African-American men are up. A 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that HIV rates among young men who have sex with men (MSM) ages 13-24 were up 22 percent between the years 2008-2010, with young Black MSM making up 55 percent of those infections.

But Black gay and bisexual men report fewer risk factors — IV drug use, drug use and unprotected sex — compared to their white counterparts. So what’s the deal?

A new study says it is a combination of other factors. Researchers surveyed 143 non-monogamous HIV-negative gay and bisexual men from different races and ethnicities under the age of 40. According to aidsmap, the following factors are helping fuel rates among the Black men who have sex with men (MSM):

Black MSM come into contact with HIV more often: So think about it. If the group of people (social networks) you are sleeping with already has a higher concentration of HIV/AIDS, the likelihood that you will come across HIV is going to be high. This is how it works among Black MSM, plus Black MSM are 11 times more likely to have sex with other Black MSM than with men of other races. So theoretically, all it takes is one time of not using condoms and you are more likely to be exposed to the virus.

Older Men, Younger Partners: Thirty-four percent of Black MSM who had sex with someone older did so without condoms. Also, Black MSM with partners more than 10 years their senior were twice as likely to not use condoms too. This same trend is also found women, especially Black and African women. It’s believed that older men control condoms and if they don’t want to use them, that influences safer sex practices in relationships.

Other findings included:

— Black MSM 25 and younger were likely to use condoms with younger men as were older Black MSM whose partners were closer in age.

— While it may be believed that random hook ups with numerous men may encourage unprotected sex, that wasn't the case. Black men were almost four times less likely to have unprotected sex with a partner they had never met before.

— Black MSM were more likely to stop using condoms when in a relationship.

So what does this all mean?

First, it cannot be denied that unprotected anal sex is much riskier when it comes to HIV transmission. But in order to understand AIDS in Black America, we have to look beyond behaviors and recognize other factors these researchers found and how they intersect with other issues: Poverty, lack of access to health care, homophobia, untreated and undiagnosed STDs, unaware of one’s HIV status and economic instability.

Second, this study illuminates the need for everyone to know their status, to get tested regularly and for health providers to diagnose people who are positive and don’t know it to get them on treatment. Remember, consistent treatment not only can improve the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS, but also reduce their viral load and lessen the probability of them passing on the virus on to someone else.

Learn more about HIV and Black MSM at cdc.gov.  

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