Unprotected Sex Rises Among Gay Men in U.S., CDC Reports

A study from U.S. health officials found a 20 percent rise in unprotected sex among gay men, with sexual risk highest for those who haven’t been tested for HIV.

An analysis of data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 20 major U.S. cities found that the number of men who reported having unprotected anal sex in the past year rose in 2011 from 2005. Men who didn’t know they were HIV positive were more than twice as likely to have sex with someone who wasn’t infected, compared with those who knew their HIV status, the report found.

“While we remain concerned about potentially increasing levels of sexual risk, it is encouraging to see that risk is substantially lower in those who know they have HIV,” said Tom Frieden, the CDC’s director, in a statement.

Men who have sex with men accounted for about two-thirds of new HIV infections, and about half of the 1.1 million people who have HIV in the U.S., according to the CDC report published in today’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Unprotected anal sex puts participants at high risk for infection with the AIDS virus and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Though some men try to decrease the risk of spreading HIV through having sex with only with people who share their own status, the strategy is risky for HIV-negative men, who may encounter partners who don’t know their HIV status. Among those men who had tested negative in the last 12 months, 7 percent were found to be infected at the time of the survey.

Increased use of HIV testing, and more-frequent testing among men who are sexually active may reduce the number of men unaware of their status and lower the risks of transmission, the CDC authors wrote in their report.

“HIV testing remains one of our most powerful tools to reverse the epidemic,” Friedan said in the statement. “Everyone should know their HIV status.”

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