A recent study attempting to clarify the causes behind the alarming HIV rate among gay black men ultimately cited age gaps between partners, sexual networks more tightly drawn by race, and the fact that partner familiarity affects condom usage as the primary risk factors.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Acquired Deficiency Syndromes, involved 143 HIV-negative men who have sex with men (MSM) younger than 40. The participants, who covered a range of ethnicities, were asked to keep a diary of their sexual encounters during a three month window.
Overall, although black MSM reported significantly less unprotected sex than other racial groups, they were the most likely to have sex with other black men.
“African Americans were 11 times more likely to have black partners than partners of another race,” the report states. “By contrast, Latinos were three times more likely to have Latino partners than someone of a different race, and whites were two times more likely to partner with other whites. Thus, black MSM were more likely to be exposed to HIV by virtue of having sex within a group that has higher HIV rates.”
Additionally, black MSM were also the only racial group to be less likely to practice unprotected sex with older partners — who would be more likely to have HIV as compared with younger men — and to forgo condoms when they had sex with another man repeated times. On the flip side, white MSM were more likely to have unprotected sex with younger partners, who would be less likely to be living with the virus.
"What this study adds is that it found that interactions of risk factors, rather than single risk factors, were the most crucial determinants of higher HIV risk in black men," AIDSMap's Gus Cairns told the Huffington Post. "For instance, while black men were less likely to have unprotected sex than other ethnicities, they were more likely to drop condom use once a relationship became long term."
The recent study was launched in part due to previous studies – many of which concluded that although gay black men have the highest incidence of HIV over any other demographic, they actually don’t engage in greater risk behaviors in comparison to other groups.