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Why are gay men more at risk for HIV?

Dr. David explains what’s behind the higher rates of HIV among gay men.

One reason some groups and areas have been more affected by HIV/AIDS than others is because the HIV prevalence – the percent of the population that has HIV – is already high. In other words, the chances of coming in contact with the virus and thus also the risk of infection is greater.

A common misconception is that groups with higher rates of HIV are acting less responsibly. In fact, research shows that this is not the case. Groups more at-risk for HIV are generally found to get tested more frequently, use condoms more often, and take other precautions to protect against HIV as compared with other groups. The chance of being exposed to the virus is just greater in these social networks and so the response must also be greater.

Increased access to HIV treatment and care, along with earlier diagnosis, and use of PrEP has been shown to bring down rates of HIV even among areas with higher prevalence.

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Dr. David: This gentlemen asks, “’Why are gay men more at risk for HIV?”
Dr. Demetre: You have some questions? We know HIV.
Dr. David: I’m a doctor. I’m trained for this.
Dr. Leandro: We’re gonna give you what you need.
Dr. David: The answer to this question is not about who you are, but it’s more about a numbers game. Since the HIV epidemic started in the 1980s gay men have been at a greater risk and represented more of the new HIV cases that we’ve known in this country and actually internationally as well. In this day and time, gay men still make up about 2/3 of the new HIV diagnosis. So whether you like or not, just because you’re having sex with other men you are going to put yourself in a pool where you’re having a greater chance of getting in contact with HIV. The other part of that is that when you do have sex, anal sex in particular, without a condom it’s going to be more at risk for HIV. So again, the point I would want to make, it’s not because of who you are, it’s not just because you’re gay. It’s because we live in a high HIV prevalent society among gay men and then also because some of the behaviors that we engage in may put us more at risk for HIV.

#AskTheHIVDoc is a video series from Greater Than HIV featuring top HIV doctors providing answers to commonly-asked questions about HIV prevention, testing and treatment.

This information is shared for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. The views expressed are those of the featured medical professional and reflect information available to that professional at time of filming. Always consult a health care provider for any personal health decision.

While we make every effort to keep the medical information on our website updated, we cannot guarantee that the information reflects the most up-to-date research. Also, please note the views expressed by individuals who appear in Greater Than HIV videos and other content are their own and are not made on behalf of any groups/organizations/associations.