STUDY: Are Gay Men Underestimating Their Risk of HIV Infection?

A new study of gay men finds a disconnect between real and perceived risk of HIV infection.

BY Mark S. King

June 27 2014 5:31 PM ET

A new study published in the journal LGBT Health offers a sobering look at sexually active gay men and their perceived risk of acquiring HIV. The most troubling finding may be that they don't believe they are at much risk at all.

Researchers interviewed more than 600 gay men over a period of one year who participated in HIV testing at public sex venues in New York City. Their purpose was to see how accurately the men could assess their candidacy for PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis, or taking Truvada each day to prevent infection) as well as their own perception of HIV risk.

To assess the probable risk of HIV infection, the men were surveyed on their sexual behaviors and drug use in the previous three months. The vast majority of those surveyed met the criteria for PrEP use (80 percent), but surprisingly, an almost equal number (78 percent) did not believe their risk to be significant enough to warrant PrEP.

The findings suggest as much about the perceptions of gay men toward risk-taking as it does about whether or not they might consider PrEP as an option.

"In the case of [gay men], a lack of self-awareness of risk may result in missed opportunities to prevent HIV," the article notes. "Self-perception of risk for acquiring a disease has been shown to be an important motivating factor leading individuals to seek diagnostic testing and other preventive services."

The study defined risk behaviors and candidacy for PrEP as: anal sex with three or more male partners, transactional sexual activity, condomless anal sex with a partner who is HIV positive or of unknown HIV status, or having been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection in the last six months.

 

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