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Black MSM Are Slightly Less Likely to Engage in Risky Sex
by Jon Garbo

In early February 2001, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the results of a study of young, urban men who have sex with men (MSM), which found that African American MSM were at significantly higher risk of HIV than other racial groups. The researchers warned that 30 percent of African American MSM were infected with HIV, twice the rate of Hispanic MSM and four times the rate of Caucasian MSM. Yet according to new data presented August 13 at the National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta, GA, African American MSM are somewhat lesslikely than Caucasian and Hispanic MSM to engage in risky sexual behavior. If African American MSM aren't taking more sexual risks, why are they contracting HIV at significantly higher rates?

Though more studies are needed before a sure answer can be given, the researchers pointed to the African American community-at-large, which faces staggering rates of HIV. Each year, over half of all new HIV infections occur in African Americans, compared to 26 percent for Caucasians and 19 percent for Hispanics.

"Given that risk behavior patterns do not explain the high rates of new infection [among African American MSM], researchers believe the high infection rates… may be due to higher HIV prevalence among their sexual partners," CDC said in a statement. "If young MSM are likely to choose sexual partners from their own racial/ ethnic group, the high level of HIV prevalence [total infections] in African American communities would result in any risk behavior carrying a much higher chance of infection."

CDC researchers analyzed data from their six-city Young Men's Survey, which included over 2,900 MSM age 23 to 29. The researchers looked at how many male sexual partners the participants had had and whether or not the participants had engaged in unprotected anal sex within six months prior to the study. This data was broken down into racial groups.

The study found that of the 30 percent of participants who reported five or more male sexual partners, 27 percent were African American, compared to 30 percent Hispanic and 32 percent Caucasian. Similarly, the percentage of those who reported unprotected anal sex was lowest among African Americans (40 percent), compared with Hispanics and Caucasians (both 48 percent).

Looking forward, the CDC stressed the need for continued HIV prevention efforts. "HIV prevention is a lifetime commitment," said Ronald Valdiserri, M.D., M.P.H., deputy director of the CDC's HIV, STD and TB prevention programs. "We must target our prevention efforts to meet the needs of diverse gay and bisexual communities, including African American and Latino MSM, many of whom do not identify as gay."

Updated: Monday, 13 August 2001


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