According to a new study released by the CDC, the number of gay men who admitted to having unprotected sex rose 20% from 2005 to 2011. Gay men also continue to make up the majority of HIV infections in nearly every state.
Though the CDC doesn’t know why unprotected sex is somehow seeing a surge, they do make note of some “presumed risk-reduction strategies” that guys are engaging in, particularly sero-sorting, or having unprotected sex only with those with the same HIV status.
The problem with this tactic is that the survey also found that only 67% of those surveyed had actually been tested for HIV in the previous 12 months. In a New York Times article on the findings, CDC director Thomas R. Frieden expressed worry about that particular practice.
“The problem with sero-sorting is that it’s really easy to get it wrong. When one-third of men aren’t even tested in the last year and a tenth of those who thought they were negative were actually positive, you don’t want to risk your life on a guess.”
There are also fears that the younger generation of gay men are becoming used to taking more sexual risks due to lack of exposure to the debilitating effects of long-term HIV/AIDS infection.
“Young guys are less worried,” said Alex Carballo-Diéguez, a researcher at the H.I.V. Center of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University. “…in the moment of excitement, they’re going to do what they enjoy.”
Diéguez isn’t alone. In a recent editorial for The New Yorker, former Washington Post HIV/AIDS journalist Michael Specter recalls walking through legendary gay neighborhoods like The Castro, The Village, and DuPont Circle that resembled ghost towns during the height of the epidemic.
Those that remained were gaunt, frail, and sick in a way that betrayed their youth. Specter sums up the issue much more succinctly, and his thoughts are terrifyingly prescient.
What twenty-year-old man, enjoying his first moments of sexual adventure, is going to be scared because, ten years before he was born, people like me saw gay men writhe and vomit and die on the streets where he now stands?
It’s a chilling question indeed, and one well worth exploring the answer to.