A recent study at Northwestern University indicates that young black men who have sex with men (MSM) are sixteen times more likely to acquire HIV than their white peers, despite their getting tested more frequently for HIV and being less likely to have unsafe sex. The study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and recently published in the Journal of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndromes, indicates that HIV prevention efforts and education are effective in reducing risky sexual behaviors and promoting awareness about the importance of HIV testing among the black MSM community.
The study’s most significant findings indicate that:
• Black MSM reported having sex with the lowest number of sexual partners overall.
• Black MSM tested for HIV more frequently than their white counterparts but were more likely to have a detectable HIV viral load if HIV-positive.
• Black MSM reported not having close relationships with their sexual partners.
• Black MSM were more likely to use marijuana, while white MSM were more likely to report alcohol problems; and finally
• Black MSM experienced greater levels of stigma, victimization, trauma and childhood sexual abuse than their white counterparts.
Senior study author Brian Mustanski, professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and director of the Northwestern Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing, said in a prepared statement, “We have known from prior studies that this paradox exists—black young MSM engage in fewer risk behaviors but have a much higher rate of HIV diagnosis. Our study illuminates how HIV disparities emerge from complex social and sexual networks and inequalities in access to medical care for those who are HIV-positive.”
Mustanski continued, “[Black MSM] social and sexual networks are more dense and interconnected, which from an infectious disease standpoint makes infections transmitted more efficiently through the group. That, coupled with the higher HIV prevalence in the population, means any sexual act has a higher chance of HIV transmission.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at the current rate of infection, one out of every two black MSM will acquire HIV at some point in their lives, compared to one in five Hispanic MSM and one in eleven white MSM.
The study is the most comprehensive attempt to ascertain why these disparities exist. It collected and analyzed data from 1,015 MSM living in the Chicago metropolitan area between the ages of sixteen and twenty-nine.
Ethan Morgan, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern’s Institute of Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing, one of the study’s authors, stated that “By learning more about young black MSM’s social networks, we can better understand what drives such persistent racial disparities in HIV—and close that gap.”
—Reporting by Hank Trout
Hank Trout, Editor at Large, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a thirty-eight-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his fiancé Rick. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.