In March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released statistics showing significant disparities between rates of HIV and syphilis infection among men who have sex with men and the rest of the US population.
Men who have sex with men are 44 times more likely to contract HIV than other men and 40 times more likely to contract HIV than women. They are 46 times more likely to contract syphilis than other men and 71 times more likely than women.
After miracle breakthroughs in treatment and two decades worth of increasingly sophisticated understanding about sexually transmitted diseases, how did we end up back at the beginning with gay and bisexual men so vulnerable to infection?
We’re here because we’ve watered down prevention messages. Explicit public campaigns about how to stay safe have been replaced with simplistic messages about condoms. If we have learned anything about preventing HIV transmission among gay and bisexual men in the last 25 year we’ve learned this: it’s not about condoms; it’s about dignity. As long as men who have sex with men are at a higher risk for mental illness, trauma, and substance abuse — which they are thanks in large part to the stigma attached to being gay or engaging in gay sex — they are going to be more likely to engage in risky behavior.