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Does Hatred of Gay and Bi Men Put Them at Higher Risk for HIV?

Does Hatred of Gay and Bi Men Put Them at Higher Risk for HIV?


A European study found that guys in the least tolerant countries were at the greatest risk of HIV infection.

Just as it’s said the bad apples can spoil the entire bunch, new research suggests the most homophobic countries in Europe may be responsible for a boost in the number of HIV cases among gay and bisexual men, but it’s more complex than that. 

Researchers studied 175,000 gay and bisexual men living in 38 of Europe’s 51 countries, which have various levels of perceived homophobia. The study, published in the journal AIDS, concluded that men in the most homophobic countries had fewer sexual partners and were thus overall less likely to be diagnosed with HIV, most likely because the closet repressed their actions. But those who did have sex with other men in those places knew less about HIV, used condoms less frequently, had riskier sexual behavior, and were thus at the greatest risk of contracting HIV. “Our findings are surprising as it may appear it’s effectively safer for men to stay in the closet in the most homophobic countries because their HIV risk is lower there,” said coauthor Dr. Ford Hickson of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “But the closet is a difficult, shameful place, which is particularly harmful to mental health and well-being. ”

For these men, Hickson said, ignorance can mean infection, and possibly a swift path to death of they then forgo treatment. “The homophobia that may have appeared to be protecting these men will now be exposing them to huge risk,” he said.

The research was conducted by the Yale School of Public Health, Columbia University, and three respected schools in Europe. Scientists say their findings demonstrate the need for new approaches to HIV in Europe. “There are four key interventions in suppressing HIV: condom distribution, peer-led group education, peer-outreach education projects, and universal access to antiretrovirals for men with HIV,” Hickson said. “All health authorities could be commissioning these services as well as working to protect the human rights of sexual minorities.”

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