Barebacking and AIDS 2009
by Scott Stiffler
Monday Jun 8, 2009
What’s in a word?
Can a little loaded term like "barebacking"-used as a thinly veiled, homophobic demonization of unsafe sex practices-so effect an at-risk population that the resulting stigma becomes a significant contributing factor to an increase in HIV infection within that population? And if so, what’s to be done?
But before we explore the potent ways in which (to partially quote William S. Burroughs) "language is a virus," who exactly is at risk?
Rise in transmissions
Francisco Roque, Associate Director of the Institute for Gay Men’s Health at GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis; www.gmhc.org), observes "We are seeing a rise overall in transmission rates, particularly as it relates to young people and gay men in general." There’s been a steady increase, says Roque, among young black and Latino men who have sex with men; "and that’s important to note."
Just as alarming as the steady increase is the recently revealed fact that "The HIV epidemic in the United States is-and has been-worse than previously estimated." That’s the conclusion reached from a CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention; (www.cdc.gov) report. In September, 2008, the CDC released the first statistics from their new HIV incidence surveillance system. That report estimated "that 56,300 new HIV infections occurred in the United States in 2006." What’s alarming about that number is that it doesn’t "represent an actual increase in the annual number of new infections, but rather, a better way of estimating."
A separate CDC historical trend analysis "suggests that the number of new HIV infections was never as low as the previous estimate of 40,000 new infections annually and has been roughly stable since the early 2000s."
In terms of identifying the most at-risk groups, "The new estimates provide a profile of HIV/AIDS in the United States that is primarily young, male, and African American. The epidemic also disproportionately affects Hispanics and Latinos; particularly Hispanic and Latino men who have sex with men (MSM). Indeed, gay and bisexual men of all races and ethnicities are the most affected of any group of Americans."
But why is that? These populations have been exposed to the same messages about safe sex-so what accounts for the behavior which has resulted in disproportionate infection rates?
More: Barebacking and AIDS 2009: Edge New York