Gay and bisexual male teens in the United States don’t engage in riskier sexual behaviors than straight males, but are more likely to use injection drugs — which could contribute to an already elevated risk for contracting HIV, a new study reports.
Why it matters:
Men with male sexual partners are 57 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than men with female partners, and this number rises for gay men of color. Hoping to understand HIV risk behaviors in teens, the CDC added questions about students’ sexual identity and the sex of their sexual partners to the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey last year. The questionnaire is administered to high school students nationwide.
The nitty gritty:
Researchers found no significant differences in the number of sexually active teens, condom use, or partner number between males of different sexual orientations. However, gay and bisexual male teenagers were over five times more likely to use injected drugs. Because this is the first time those questions were asked, there’s no way to know the way sexual activity and drug use have been changing over time.
“We were most surprised and concerned about the very high rates of injected drug use, which are further compounding their risk for HIV infection,” said Laura Kann, chief of the School-Based Surveillance Branch within CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health. The findings were presented Wednesday at the International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa.
But keep in mind:
While safe sex practices were comparable across all sexual orientations, Kann said most HIV infections among gay males still occur from sex, meaning it’s important to continue bolstering safe sex behaviors among gay and bisexual teens — including ensuring access to condoms, HIV testing, and treatment.
You should know:
“These data don’t tell us why, but other studies indicate that substance abuse is likely related to many complex interrelated factors, and that includes things like discrimination and stigma,” Kann said.
Gay and bisexual males were also more likely to abuse other controlled substances, including prescription drugs.
The bottom line:
Gay and bisexual male teens are no more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors than straight male teens, but their higher rates of injection drug use and the higher prevalence of HIV in the community mean that it’s important to keep up efforts to prevent HIV infection among this group.