HIV risk among gay men not due to "complacency"
Thursday, 13 November 2003
Researchers in the Department of General Practice at the University of Adelaide have argued, on the basis of a current study, that the rise in new HIV infections in South Australia is not the result of "complacency" about safe sex among gay men.
"While it may well be that people in the heterosexual community imagine, probably wrongly, that HIV is not a risk for them, gay men are only too well aware of the risk of HIV whenever they have sex," says Dr Gary Rogers, Director of the Department's Health in Human Diversity Unit.
Dr Rogers is co-author of a major study into the links between depression and unsafe sex among gay men in South Australia, the results of which were published earlier this year in the British journal HIV Medicine. It is believed to be the first study of its kind in the world.
97% of the 542 homosexually-active men who have joined the Unit's HIV Care and Prevention Programme agreed with the statement "it is as important to practise safe sex as it was five years ago" on the enrolment questionnaire.
"That really doesn't support the notion that Adelaide gay men are complacent," Dr Rogers says.
"What we have found, though, is that men who have a long-term, low- grade form of depression are about twice as likely to report having had recent unprotected casual anal sex than men who weren't depressed. And this form of depression was more common in men who were less well off and had experienced higher levels of discrimination and victimisation in the past," he says.
Dr Rogers says that many gay people experience pressure from society throughout their lives.
"They might have had difficult relationships with their parents because they were 'different', then experienced social isolation during their teenage years followed by a lifetime of name-calling, threats of violence and discrimination at work and in almost every area of life," he says.
"It would be really surprising if this kind of oppression didn't have an effect, and sometimes people end up in a state of mind where they 'just don't care' about protecting themselves.
"When Indigenous Australians commit suicide in a prison cell or take risks with petrol sniffing or alcohol we don't blame them and call them 'complacent', we try to treat them and address the conditions in society that lead to the problem. Why should it be any different for gay men?" Dr Rogers asks.
"What we've also seen is that when people can access supportive primary health care that is sensitive to their needs, their rate of risk taking falls significantly," he says.
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