As part of the International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presented a report today analyzing the sexual risk behavior of American males in high school. These risk behaviors included having sex without condoms and having multiple sexual partners. The new study, which compiled data from ninth- through 12th-grade males identifying as gay, bisexual, or heterosexual, found “no significant differences” in the HIV-related risk behaviors between these groups.
But despite the very little difference between the HIV-related risk behaviors of gay youth and that of straight youth, the data show that the rate of HIV transmission is still much higher among men who have sex with men. MSM have an HIV diagnosis rate at 57 times that of heterosexual men. In 2014, for example, MSM represented a full 80 percent of new youth infections.
So why does HIV infection disproportionately affect gay and bisexual men if they don’t engage in risky sexual behavior more often than their heterosexual peers? A huge factor is the increased prevalence of HIV in the sexual networks of gay and bisexual men. And one must also keep in mind that, when it comes to HIV transmission, not all sex acts are created equal. According to Dr. Laura Kann, chief of the CDC’s School-Based Surveillance Branch, MSM are at higher risk because “the transmission risk for receptive anal sex is 17 times higher than [for] vaginal sex.”