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What You Need To Know

You may already know that gay and bisexual men are the population most affected by HIV in the U.S. Black gay and bisexual men are getting hit particularly hard by the epidemic. Studies in major cities have found that, in those cities, nearly one in three black gay and bisexual men is infected with HIV, and the majority (59%) don’t even know it because they’ve never been tested or aren’t testing enough.[1]

From 2006 to 2009, new infections in young black gay and bisexual men (ages 13-29) increased by 48 percent.[2]

But, there is reason to be hopeful, since we have the power to stop HIV. Knowing your HIV status is a powerful tool – whether you test positive or negative, you can use that knowledge to take better care of yourself and your loved ones. We encourage you to get involved and to change the course of this epidemic for yourself and for your community.

Why is this happening?

There is no easy answer to explain why black gay and bisexual men are being hit so hard by HIV. Research shows that black gay and bisexual men are not doing anything to put themselves at greater risk than other gay men; in fact, many report fewer sex partners and less drug use, which are lower risk behaviors.[3] However, we do know that the number of new HIV infections in black gay and bisexual men is growing - this means the possibility of getting infected is also growing.

We also know that lack of access to healthcare, unemployment, racism, depression, stigma and having older sex partners (who are more likely to be infected with HIV) are additional factors that may contribute to gay and bisexual men being more likely to get this disease.

Another contributing issue is that some men think they can tell if a partner is positive or negative. But you can't tell if a person has HIV just by looking at him or her. Many gay and bisexual men may think they do not have HIV because they feel fine. But if they don’t get tested there is no way to know for sure, and they may unknowingly give HIV to their next partner.

Other men may avoid getting tested or not tell you about their HIV status because of the stigma that may come with being HIV positive.

 

What you can do

The first step in protecting your health and the health of your partners is to make sure you know your HIV status. Getting an HIV test is the only way to know if you have HIV or not. A general rule is to get tested at least annually. However, CDC has recently reported that gay and bisexual men may benefit from getting an HIV test more often, like every 3-6 months. And, to be fully in charge of your health, you need to understand the window period. This is a period right after someone gets infected but before infection shows up on an HIV test.

Knowledge is power! Knowing your status is a source of strength, not a reason for fear. When you know your status, you can take care of yourself, and you are less likely to give the virus to others. Research has shown that if people know they have HIV, they often take steps to protect their partners. For more information on the importance of frequent HIV testing for gay and bisexual men, check out the recent CDC statement on HIV testing.

It can be hard to talk to your partner about your HIV status. How do you start this important conversation? Read this helpful guideExternal Link on talking about your HIV status with your partner or spouse. Information is also available for help in talking to others in your lifeExternal Link about your HIV status --- including family, friends, past sexual partners, or anyone you may have shared needles with to inject drugs.

Remember, if you test positive, medical care can help you live a longer, healthier life. You can protect your partners by using condoms every time you have sex and asking them to do the same. Check out this resource packet that can help you identify a physician and understand the treatment process.PDFExternal Link

If you test negative for HIV, remember that if you have unprotected sex or share needles for drug use after your test, you need to get tested again to ensure you are still HIV negative. YOUR HIV TEST RESULT EXPIRES EVERY TIME YOU HAVE RISKY SEX.

Getting tested for HIV will make you stronger because you will have the information you need to make good decisions about your sexual health and your future.  In addition to staying on top of your HIV status, check out these tips on what additional tests, vaccinations and other important steps gay and bisexual men can take to stay healthy.

1. "Prevalence and Awareness of HIV Infection Among Men Who Have Sex With Men --- 21 Cities, United States, 2008." MMWR. CDC, 24 Sept. 2010. Web.

2. HIV Incidence Surveillance Group. "Estimated HIV Incidence in the United States, 2006-2009." PLoS ONE (2011). 3 Aug. 2011. Web.

3. Millett, Gregorio. "Explaining Disparities in HIV Infection among Black and White Men Who Have Sex with Men." AIDS. International AIDS Society, 1 Oct. 2007. Web.