Comparing data from National Surveys of Family Growth in 2002 and between 2006-10, the study shows a consistent decline in sexual partners across most ethnicities and age groups, particularly men under the age of 24.
Condom use, or rather, the sad lack thereof, remains unchanged.
Key findings include:
* Between 2002 and 2010, the mean number of sexual partners among men who have sex with men (MSM) fell from 2.9 to 2.3
* Among men under 24, 2.9 to 2.1; among men 35-44, 3.0 to 2.2
* Among men with incomes under 150% of the US federal poverty level, 3.0 to 2.1
* Among men living in suburban metropolitan areas, 3.2 to 2.1; the number of sexual partners remained the same among men in city-center areas, 2.6
* Among white men, 3.0 to 2.5; among black men, 2.4 to 1.9
* In 2002, 57% of men had not used a condom the last time they had sex, compared to 58% in 2006-10
* Among MSM who also have sex with women, 46% had not used a condom the last time they had vaginal sex in 2002, compared to 67% by 2010
* MSM who had had female partners also decreased from 38% to 25%
* Fewer men reported transactional sex (sex for money or drugs), down from 15% to 3%
* Fewer men said they had injected drugs or had had sex with someone who had injected drugs, down from 12% to 5%
* In 2002 and 2006-10, 41% of men said they had had an HIV test in the last year; 38% reported having an STI check-up in 2002 and 39% in 2006-10.
* The proportion of men who had never had an HIV test fell from 25 to 15%.
Researchers claim “gay men appear to have taken steps that could reduce their HIV risk by using a method that has received little emphasis in HIV prevention programmes for gay men – reducing their number of partners – while not increasing condom use, which has received the most emphasis.”
However, HIV prevalence and the incidence of STIs increased in gay men despite the decrease in numbers of partners and other sexual risk behaviors indicate the influence of “network factors,” particularly among young black gay men. According to the study:
Factors about partners that are not captured by the individual risk behavior focus of most studies. For instance, some studies have found that black gay men tend to restrict sex to partners of their own ethnicity and are also more likely to have sex with men a number of years older or younger than themselves. Both of these would tend to concentrate HIV infection within the black gay community.
Meanwhile, one factor that could explain the pruding-up/settling down of MSM America could be the legalization of same-sex marriage. Massachusetts became the first state to adopt gay marriage one year after the first set of data was collected.