STUDY: 5 Ways To Lower the High HIV Rates Of Gay and Bi Men

By: Daniel Villarreal
12.21.2012

This week an HIV report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave us some bad news — HIV infections among young gay and bisexual men rose 22 percent between 2008 and 2010.

During that same period, the number of new infections among all gay and bi men rose 12 percent. Now gay and bi guys represent 63 percent of all new HIV infections in the U.S., with 29,925 gay and bi men newly infected in 2010 alone — that's roughly the entire population of Helena, Montana.

Of course, we already knew about our high numbers, which is why we asked your opinion about the cause of our community's high infection rates.

Your top five answers were as follows:
- 21 percent claimed that current medications make living with HIV seem like no big deal.
- 18 percent said "We need a national HIV awareness campaign to remind people of the continuing epidemic."
- 16 percent said that that America's poor sexual education standards were the culprit.
- 10 percent blamed bareback porn encouraging men to have unprotected sex.
- Nine percent said that drugs like meth and alcohol cause regular disregard for safe-sex.
Another 11 percent blamed a general sense of nihilism for the rise in HIV rates.

On World AIDS Day last month, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton laid out a five-point plan to raise an "AIDS-free generation," but she didn't mention too many specifics.

And that's where we come in.

Using your poll feedback, we thought of five ways to counteract the causes and attitudes driving up our HIV rates.

Our suggestions would take a lot of community coordination to implement, but aren't we worth it?

1) HIGHLIGHT THE FINANCIAL AND PHYSICAL COSTS OF HIV MEDS

Basically, HIV meds have turned the disease into a manageable illness, giving it the non-lethal allure of something like diabetes.

But even though people with HIV are living longer, the financial and physical costs of HIV meds can still take a toll on HIV-positive people lives over the long haul.

An effective PSA campaign could highlight the cost of living with HIV as a deterrent to those who think that contracting the disease won't really hurt them.

2) START A VISIBILITY CAMPAIGN FOR CELEBS AND PEOPLE WITH HIV

The last high profile person to disclose their HIV status on the national stage was Magic Johnson in 1991. Since then, it seems that we've only heard about having HIV from reality stars and porn actors.

But perhaps it's time to encourage celebrities to come out of the HIV closet and share their stories alongside other HIV-positive people. The goal would be to share stories on how they got the disease and what they're doing to prevent others from doing the same.

Star power could really help kickstart a national HIV awareness campaign that reminds people that the epidemic isn't over and that preventing its spread helps families, friends and the greater community.

3) DEMAND BETTER SEX EDUCATION NATIONWIDE

Everyone — no matter your HIV status or sexual orientation — can agree that sex education in American schools sucks.

In the U.S., 38 states don't require public school sexual education and many of those states often push "abstinence only" programs that leave students literally holding their dicks when it comes to preventing diseases and finding sexual health resources.

The LGBT community would do well to team up with other HIV organizations to lobby Congress for a national sexual education curriculum with a stress on disease prevention rather than abstinence.

In addition to that, there should also be an easy-to-use government website of sexual health guidelines that provides the basics about STD prevention and local sexual health resources. It should be nationally accessible to students of all ages with information presented in a straightforward, but age-appropriate way.

4) SPEAK OUT AGAINST BAREBACKING

Since American sex education sucks so much, most of us end up learning about sex by watching porn. Bareback (or condomless) porn is an undeniable money-maker catering to a fantasy of "sex without barriers." 

But most guys don't realize that it's much easier to catch HIV through anal rather than vaginal sex. That's partly because the digestive tract is like a sponge, reguarly absorbing nurients from the foods that pass through it.

It also has lots of blood vessels and tissue far more delicate than the vagina, tissue more prone to injury and bleeding. 

In short, anal sex yields much higher rates of HIV transmission than any other types of sex.

Some HIV-positive guys think they can bareback without fear of catching infection, when in reality even poz guys can contract different strains of HIV as well as STDs like syphillis, which can really debilitate an already taxed immune system.

But taking the allure out of bareback sex will take a multi-pronged effort in environments with large gay male populations.

First, we should make sure that every citizen knows where to get free condoms (and how to use them). Second, businesses should promote HIV testing with annual discounts or promotions for customers who get tested on National HIV Testing Day (June 27).

Third, personal sites could start a campaign encouraging users to display their HIV-statuses and discuss safe sex preferences before hooking up.

Lastly, HIV organizations could spearhead a viral ad campaign (no pun intended) warning HIV-positive men about the dangers of bareback sex or portraying unsafe sex as uncool and irresponsible.

The real challenge would be figuring out a way fresh intelligent way to discourage unsafe sex without making sex seem scary or shaming HIV-positive men.

5) FIGHT FOR NEEDLE EXCHANGE AND ANTI-METH PROGRAMS

While needle sharing between intravenous drug users newly infect thousands of new people every year, so do tweakers who have unprotected sex on meth.

Meth abuse is an epidemic all its own, as its low costs and rural availability keep young and homeless gays hooked on the drug without many ways of getting un-hooked.

Until we can reform U.S. policy to de-criminalize drugs and treat addiction as a health issue rather than a criminal one, the push against meth has to occur in a multi-pronged community-level strategy that prevents use, closes meth labs, discourages selling and help addicts get sober — a tall order, but doable.

As for needle exchange programs: they work. But we'll need to convince skittish voters and anti-drug legislators to support such programs first, seeing them as public health initiatives rather than ways to promote drug use.

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