Sexual Barriers May Up HIV Risk in Black Gay Men

Megan Rauscher, Reuters, July 6, 2009

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While black Americans are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, most studies have found that black gay men don’t engage in higher risk sexual activity any more frequently than other gay men, H. Fisher Raymond and Willi McFarland of the San Francisco Department of Public Health point out in a report in the journal AIDS and Behavior.

To study the influence of social and sexual mixing between racial and ethnic groups of gay men in San Francisco, Raymond and McFarland interviewed 1,142 gay men. Fifty-six percent were white, 22% Latino, 14% Asian and 9% black. The men reported on a total of 3,532 sexual partnerships.

They found that black gay men were three times more likely to have sexual partners that were also black, than would be expected by chance alone.

In addition, black gay men were the least preferred of sexual partners by other races and were believed to be riskier to have sex with, which can lead to men of other races avoiding black men as sexual partners.

Black gay men were also counted less often among friends and were perceived as less welcome at the common venues that cater to gay men in San Francisco by other gay men.

These influences, Raymond told Reuters Health, push black gay men closer together in smaller social and sexual networks–“networks that are already at higher risk for HIV infection merely because the background prevalence of HIV is higher than in other groups.”

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“The racial disparity in HIV observed for more than a decade,” Raymond and McFarland conclude in their report, “will not disappear until the challenges posed by a legacy of racism toward blacks in the U.S. are addressed.”

[Editor’s Note: “Racial Mixing and HIV Risk Among Men Who Have Sex with Men,” by H. Fisher Raymond and Willi MacFarland, can be read on-line here. It can be downloaded as a PDF file here.]

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