HIV risk in young black males

New research is shedding light on why young black males who have sex with males have among the highest rates of HIV infection in the United States, even though their reported use of condoms is similar to males of other racial and ethnic backgrounds.

A key factor may be black men’s cultural beliefs about masculinity, which may influence how they choose their sex partners, make judgments about HIV risk and make decisions about condom use, according to a study to be presented Monday, May 2, at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Denver.

Young black males who have sex with males have twice the number of new HIV infections as young Hispanic and white men who have male partners, according to Errol L. Fields, MD, PhD, MPH, lead author of the study and a pediatric resident at Children’s Hospital Boston and Boston Medical Center. They also are five times more likely to be HIV-infected than white males of similar ages.

“We interviewed young black men to hear the stories behind these statistics,” Dr. Fields said.

Thirty-five black males ages 18-24 years in New York City, upstate New York and Atlanta took part in semi-structured interviews that explored cultural and psychosocial factors that may influence how they choose sexual partners, assess HIV risk and decide whether to use condoms.

Most of those interviewed said they preferred to partner with men whom they perceived as masculine. Some of the young men said they allowed partners who were more masculine to control what sexual activity they engaged in and whether they used condoms.

“We found that their beliefs about masculinity may affect their ability to protect themselves against HIV,” Dr. Fields said. “For example, many believed that men who acted more feminine were at greater risk for HIV than men who acted more masculine. These beliefs may have led to greater risk behavior with men who were perceived to be masculine because they believed these men were less likely to have HIV.”

The study findings suggest that cultural beliefs about masculinity may affect HIV risk in black adolescents and young adult males who have male sexual partners and should be considered in prevention strategies directed toward this population, Dr. Fields concluded.


For more information or to arrange an interview with Dr. Fields prior to the PAS meeting, call the PAS Media Relations Office at 847-434-7877.

To view the abstract, go to

The Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) are four individual pediatric organizations who co-sponsor the PAS Annual Meeting – the American Pediatric Society, the Society for Pediatric Research, the Academic Pediatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Members of these organizations are pediatricians and other health care providers who are practicing in the research, academic and clinical arenas. The four sponsoring organizations are leaders in the advancement of pediatric research and child advocacy within pediatrics, and all share a common mission of fostering the health and well being of children worldwide.

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