A new study released recently claims to have found a major reason why gay and bisexual men remain so vulnerable to the AIDS epidemic. Their theory, when it comes to the transmission of HIV, a man who has unprotected anal intercourse is at especially high risk.
Experts for the study, conducted by the Johns Hopkins Fogarty AIDS International Training and Research Program, were quick to note that, worldwide, it is heterosexual men and women who are by far the majority of those who are infected with HIV. More than 30 years into the AIDS epidemic, however, gay and bisexual men remain especially vulnerable to infection despite a heavy emphasis on condoms and HIV testing.
According to study author Dr. Chris Beyrer, director of the Johns Hopkins Fogarty AIDS International Training and Research Program:
“Everywhere we looked, HIV is expanding both in high- and low-income countries among men who have sex with men.”
Previous studies have reported that being on the receiving end of anal intercourse is equally risky whether you’re a man or a woman. The risk was estimated at 1.4 percent per sex act with an infected person, about 18 times more risky than male-to-female vaginal intercourse. The study estimates that if receptive anal intercourse were only as risky as vaginal intercourse, HIV cases would fall by 80 percent to 98 percent among gay and bisexual men over five years. They also estimate that cases would fall by 29 percent to 51 percent if more gay and bisexual men had sex in long-term relationships instead of casual encounters.
The rates of infection are even higher among black men with research showing that black gay and bisexual men outside Africa are much more likely to be HIV-positive than the general population and other blacks and black gay and bisexual men in the United States were more likely to be infected with HIV than other gay and bisexual men. Researchers feel this number is high for several reasons including lack of access to medical care.
Experts are hoping that by focusing on prevention – such as condoms, more medical treatment for those who are already infected and use of medication that prevent infection – they will be able to decrease these numbers over the next decade. But Dr. Patrick S. Sullivan, an associate professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health feels that there is a better place to start, mainly by changing the views of societies that stigmatize homosexuality and turn it into a criminal offense.