Familial and cultural pressure to conform to expected masculine behaviors leads gay black men to engage in riskier behavior, therefore increasing their risk of contracting HIV. This is according to a report out of the John’s Hopkins Children’s Center and published in Science Daily. This community of men feel distress and social isolation, according to the report, which may contribute to their decision to take part in such behaviors. The “compensatory” behavior according to researchers leads to riskier behavior and contributes to the higher infection rate among gay black men.
Gay and bisexual black men attributed to 4,800 new HIV cases in 2010, more than two times that of other male groups, says the CDC. Thirty five young, male participants took part in this study, recently published in the American Journal of Public Health. Openly gay and bisexual men took part in this study, as did young men who have sexual relations with men but don’t self-identify as gay or bi-sexual, also known as MSM. Adolescent medicine expert at the John’s Hopkins Children’s Center and the study’s lead author, Errol Fields, M.D., Ph.D., said of this study, “HIV risk is the sum total of many factors, but social and family stress is a well-known driver of all types of risk-taking behaviors, and our findings clearly support the notion this also holds true when it comes to HIV risk.”
There is a very traditional view of masculinity with strong anti-gay sentiment in the community where the participants grew up. These participants needed to prove their masculinity, hide homosexuality, and conform to social pressures. This makes them far less likely to take part in monogamous relationships and more likely to take part in unprotected sex. Black gay men also sought affirmation through sex which they weren’t getting from a close loved one in their life. Some also said that having unprotected sex showed trust and love for one’s partner. Since the community they were from expected them to act aggressive and free of any feminine behaviors, they were forced to either conform or be ostracized. Drug use, drinking, fighting and other such risky behavior was taken part in so as to prove their masculinity and fit in.
According to Dr. Fields, “The findings of our study reveal a clear clash between internal sexual identity and external expectations at a critical developmental stage,” As a result, “This clash creates loneliness and low self-esteem and appears to drive these boys and men to risky behaviors, sexual and otherwise.” These young men were also constantly worried that they would be found out. If they were found out they would lose their friends and family, so they needed their secret to be safe. “It’s a true catch-22 for these youngsters,” said Fields. “On one hand, they are dealing with the chronic anxiety of hiding their homosexuality, but on the other they face the prospect of becoming social pariahs if they come out as gay or bisexual.”
Dr. M. Mirza – 2014
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