Rising Rates of HIV Among Gay Men – What Does That Mean For Me?

HIV infection rates occur in the United
States at a far greater rate than previously thought,
according to a special HIV issue of the
Journal of the American Medical
Association
released to coincide with the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City. The CDC utilized new methodology and
technology which differentiates new versus long-standing infections. They determined that in 2006, an estimated
56,300 new cases of HIV infections occurred, significantly higher than the
prior estimate of 40,000 cases.

Men who
have sex with men accounted for 53% of these new cases, and African Americans,
while only 13% of the U.S. population, accounted for 45% of the cases. These statistics represent a discouraging
trend for both populations, especially for gay men who for many years saw a
steady decline in new rates of infection.

Abstract
numbers are difficult to personalize and it’s extremely easy to disconnect our
daily routines from this deadly trend. But every gay man needs to ask himself “what do these numbers mean for
me?” Here are some things to consider:

1. Do I know
my status?
A significant number of
new infections occur because men who are HIV positive (but don’t know it)
inadvertently infect others. Having
unprotected sex with someone who claims to be negative is foolish. Many men don’t get tested because they don’t
want to know. Others may have not yet
converted or worse, they’re not being honest. Take charge of your health – get tested.

2. Do I
engage in safer sex?
Practicing
safer sex takes a little more thought and effort, but doesn’t necessarily rule
out an erotic experience.  It is
important to be informed about specific high risk behaviors, and with a little
creativity something like putting on a condom can turn into a two-man operation
that enhances the mood.  Use your
imagination!

3. Do I
party a little too much?
A major
factor behind the rise in HIV rates among gay men is substance abuse,
particularly methamphetamine. Meth
increases sexual desire while, ironically, causing erectile dysfunction. It also results in less impulse control and
inhibition which translates to risky sexual behavior. There are many men who first used “Tina” and
ended up with HIV. If you think you
might have a problem, check out Crystal Meth Anonymous (www.southfloridacma.org) or Meth and
Men South Florida (www.methandmen.org).

4. What’s
the big deal?
  Life with HIV isn’t
always as thrilling as it appears to be for the guy doing the rock climbing in
that medication ad. While living with the
virus has changed dramatically over the years, it remains a life-threatening
illness that cannot be cured. The
medications themselves can cause serious physical problems, including long term
damage to the heart, liver, and kidneys. People continue to die from AIDS. It is a big deal.

5. So what
can I do about it?
Make HIV your business,
whether you are negative or positive or not sure. HIV/AIDS affects us all. Whether it’s advocating for better public
policy, or giving service to the community, or being sexually responsible,
every one of us needs to get active. Let’s make it the community norm to stay involved with the issue of HIV.  This
is life and death, and we have the power to make a difference.

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