Researchers: Young Gay Men Getting HIV from Significant Others
Researchers have hit upon what they say is an overlooked risk factor for HIV: serious relationships.
The anti-gay narrative is that gay men are not interested in serious, long-term partnership with one other person. That myth helps drive anti-gay efforts to keep sexual minorities out of venerable social institutions such as marriage and the military, but they can also provide a distorted idea of HIV risk factors to gays themselves.
Gay men who enter into relationships may be prone to drop their guard, engaging in unsafe sex practices without knowing their HIV status out of a belief that being in a committed partnership automatically protects them from the virus, a June 2 Medilexicon posting said.
The problem is that an estimated 80% of young, HIV-positive gay men do not know their status -- and that means they aren’t getting the treatment they need to preserve their own health and cut the risk of HIV transmission to others, the article noted.
"Being in a serious relationship provides a number of mental and physical health benefits, but it also increases behaviors that put you at risk for HIV transmission," Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine’s Brian Mustanski said. "Men who believe a relationship is serious mistakenly think they don’t need to protect themselves."
Mustanski is the lead author of a new paper on the risk presented by the idea that being in a committed relationship means there’s no need for safer sex. The paper was published by the American Psychological Association journal Health Psychology, the article said.
"We need to do greater outreach to young male couples," Mustanski said. "This is one population that has really been left behind. We should be focusing on serious relationships."
The research indicated that gay men in relationships were nearly eight times more likely to engage in unprotected sex.
"Our new research shows HIV prevention programs should be directed toward serious relationships rather than the current focus on individuals who hook up in casual relationships," a June 1 posting on the research at Impact Program.org said.
"The Northwestern study looked at the behaviors of a diverse population of 122 young men (16 to 20 years old when the study began) over two years in Chicago and the suburbs," the Impact Program posting continued. "The men are a subset of participants in Mustanski’s ongoing longitudinal study on the sexual and mental health of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth. The study, named Project Q2, is the longest running longitudinal study of LGBT youth ever conducted.
"It isn’t enough to ask your partner his HIV status," Mustanski said in comments posted at Impact Program.org. "Instead, both people in a serious, monogamous couple relationship should go and receive at least two HIV tests before deciding to stop using condoms."
"You need to get two tests at least 3 months apart because there is a window period where it is possible to be infected with HIV, but it does not show up on the most common HIV tests," the posting said. "Your HIV test counselor can help you explore your options if you are thinking about making a change in your safe sex plans."