HIV Risk and Perceptions of Masculinity Among Young Black Men Who Have Sex With Men

Published: February 14, 2012


PURPOSE: Young black men who have sex with men (YBMSM) are known to have the highest rates of HIV infection in the United States. Although reported rates of unprotected anal intercourse are similar to the rates of men who have sex with men of other racial/ethnic backgrounds, YBMSM aged 15-22 years are five times more likely to be HIV-infected than the comparably aged white men who have sex with men. We explored contextual social-environmental factors that may influence how YBMSM assess risk, choose partners, and make decisions about condom use.

METHODS: We analyzed semi-structured interviews with 35 YBMSM (age: 18-24 years) in New York City, Upstate New York, and Atlanta. We used structured analytic coding based on a theoretical scheme that emerged from the data.

RESULTS: Perception of masculinity was the primary contextual factor influencing partner selection, risk assessment, and decision-making with regard to condom usage. Four primary themes emerged: (1) greater preference for partners perceived as masculine; (2) discomfort with allowing men perceived as feminine to be the insertive partner in anal intercourse; (3) a power dynamic such that partners perceived as more masculine made condom-use decisions within the dyad; and (4) use of potential partners’ perceived masculinity to assess HIV risk.

CONCLUSIONS: Perceived masculinity may play a significant role in HIV risk for YBMSM and may be an important concept to consider in prevention strategies directed toward this population.

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