Gay young men, who are in a serious relationship, are six times more likely to have unprotected sex than those who hook up with casual partners, a new study has found.
The findings by new Northwestern Medicine provide a new direction for prevention efforts in this population who account for nearly 70 percent of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses in adolescents and young adults.
"Being in a serious relationship provides a number of mental and physical health benefits, but it also increases behaviours that put you at risk for HIV transmission," Brian Mustanski, associate professor in medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead author of a paper on the research, said.
"Men who believe a relationship is serious mistakenly think they don't need to protect themselves," he stated.
About 80 percent of gay young men who are HIV positive don't know it, because they aren't being tested frequently enough, he noted.
"It isn't enough to ask your partner his HIV status. Instead, both people in a serious, monogamous couple relationship should go and receive at least two HIV tests before deciding to stop using condoms," Mustanski said.
The new Northwestern research shows HIV prevention programs should be directed toward serious relationships rather than the current focus on individuals who hook up in casual relationships.
The Northwestern study looked at the behaviours of a diverse population of 122 young men (16 to 20 years old when the study began) over two years in Chicago and the suburbs.
The men are a subset of participants in Mustanski's ongoing longitudinal study on the sexual and mental health of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth.
The study has been published online in the journal Health Psychology.
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