SUNDAY, July 22 (HealthDay News) -- Decisions about condom use among gay couples vary by race, a new study reveals.
Although black gay couples tend to practice safe sex more often, researchers from San Francisco State University found they don't talk about it. However, white gay couples often do the opposite, they noted. Although these couples discussed condoms, they are more likely to have unprotected sex.
The study authors added their findings are significant since gay men account for the majority of new HIV cases in the United States.
In their report, the researchers examined the behaviors of male couples living in San Francisco and New York City.
They found black couples were more likely to use condoms than white couples, regardless of HIV status. The black couples said that having safe sex was an unspoken rule and condom use was expected.
"Research has shown that some of the fastest-growing HIV cases in the U.S. are among men in couple relationships and among black men. However, we studied black men with black partners and found that they are practicing safe sex," said study leader Colleen Hoff, a professor of sexuality studies, said in a news release from San Francisco State. "This suggests that being in a relationship isn't a risk factor for black men. We need to keep searching for other factors that may explain the high incidence of HIV among this demographic."
The study also revealed that most white couples did not use condoms, regardless of HIV status. These couples reported they came to this decision by talking about the risks and benefits of having unprotected sex. The researchers noted interracial gay couples were not in agreement on whether to use condoms.
White and interracial couples that included partners with different HIV status said the health of the partner with HIV was a big part of their decision to have safe or unprotected sex. Many of these couples believed that if the HIV-positive person is on medication and has a low viral load, they are less likely to spread the disease to their HIV-negative partner, the study found.
The researchers suggested this reflects the belief among some gay couples that advances in HIV treatment reduce the risks associated with the virus.
"When some individuals get tested and hear that they have a lower viral load, they might interpret that decreased risk as no risk and hence use no protection," Hoff said. "It's a calculated risk that they are taking."
Among gay couples that occasionally broke their agreement to practice safe sex, once again race played a role in how they handled the situation, the study showed. Black couples tended to discuss what happened, get tested for HIV and go back to using condoms. Meanwhile, white and interracial gay couples were more likely to continue having unsafe sex.
"We found that black and white gay men process the information they receive about HIV in different ways, and for black men using condoms is the default choice," researcher Chad Campbell said in a news release. "The black gay men we surveyed were aware of the high rates of HIV among their demographic and were taking steps to ensure they don't become another statistic."
The study was expected to be presented on Sunday at the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C.
Research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on HIV among gay and bisexual men.
-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
SOURCE: San Francisco State University, news release, July 22, 2012
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