'Down Low' Lifestyle Causing AIDS Epidemic Among Blacks
News; Posted on: 2004-04-08 19:18:02
Black men on the "down low," while not calling themselves gay or bisexual, have sex with other men, behind the backs of their wives and girlfriends.
African-American women are 23 times as likely to be infected with the Aids virus as white women and account for 71.8% of new HIV cases among women in 29 US states, government research shows.
The Kaiser Family Foundation has found that in 2001 roughly 67% of black women with Aids had contracted the virus through heterosexual sex - up from 58% four years earlier.
Government studies in 29 states found that black women comprised roughly half of all HIV infections acquired through heterosexual sex, in men and women, from 1999 to 2002.
"Yes, the risk of contracting HIV is highest in the African-American community and there's no question black women are at higher risk compared to other women," Robert Janssen, the director of HIV/Aids prevention at the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), told the New York Times.
The principal theory as to why this affects women so acutely is that many black men live on "the down-low" - meaning they have public relationships with women and secret sex with men.
Once a week, the five friends, all members of the Abundant Life Cathedral here, get together to eat sushi, sip wine and talk. But one recent afternoon, the women chose a different activity: They went to see "Not a Day Goes By," a musical about black men on the "down low" who, while not calling themselves gay or bisexual, have sex with other men, often behind the backs of their wives and girlfriends.
To these women, it was a subject of increasing urgency.
"Once I found out how prevalent the down low was in our community, I was very afraid," said one of the women, Tracy Scott, a 37-year-old government relations consultant.
Her friend Misha King, 35, said she needed to get as much information as she could, as quickly as she could.
"I've been on field trips to the gay bars and have seen guys that look like men you would date," Ms. King said. "I treat every man as a bisexual because I don't want to end up as the sister with H.I.V."
Researchers say a black woman has a greater chance of coming into contact with the virus when she has sex with another black person because, compared with the population at large, there is more HIV in the smaller population of black Americans.
Researchers say it comes down to a numbers game: Blacks make up about 12 percent of the nation's population but in 2002 accounted for 42 percent of people living with AIDS and more than half of all new HIV infections.
Blacks generally have sexual relations with other blacks, experts say, which works to confine the virus within the black "sexual network."
"A high prevalence of infection in the pool of potential partners can spread sexually transmitted infections rapidly within the ethnic group and keep it there," said Adaora Adimora, an infectious disease physician and associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill.
She and others cite several other factors. But perhaps the most troubling is the shortage of black men as potential partners and husbands.
"Large numbers of black men are in prison, or unemployed, or dead, so there is simply a smaller pool of available partners to choose from," said Gail Wyatt, a psychiatry professor and an associate director of the UCLA AIDS Institute.
In 2002, according to the census, 37.7 percent of black men 15 or older were married and living with their spouses, compared with 58.5 percent of white men. Among women 15 or older, 29.2 percent of blacks were married and living with their spouses, compared with 54.3 percent of whites.
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( http://www.nationalvanguard.org/story.php?id=2630 )
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