The LGBT Health & Development Program

Youth Blog–Black YMSM and HIV: Separating Fact from Fiction

Posted on December 7th, 2016 by Liz McConnell in Featured, Life & HIV, Youth Blog. No Comments

A black and white close up photo of two men kissing with their eyes closed.

Photo credit: See-ming Lee, “Kiss: Sean Chappin + Juan Valdez,” January 17, 2010.

Is HIV higher among Black young men who have sex with men?

Black young men who have sex with men (YMSM) are more impacted by HIV than any other group in the United States [1]. Compared to other YMSM, they are:

  • 5 times more likely to be living with HIV [2]
  • 7 times more likely to be living with undiagnosed HIV [2]

Why is HIV so much higher among Black YMSM?

There is a lot of misinformation out there, and it can be confusing to know what to believe! Let’s talk about a few myths and facts about Black YMSM and HIV.

Myth: Black YMSM are more promiscuous.
Fact: Black YMSM have a similar number of sex partners as other YMSM [2].

Myth: Black YMSM have riskier sex.
Fact: Black YMSM have similar or lower rates of unprotected anal intercourse (UAI) compared to other YMSM. Also, Black MSM of all ages are twice as likely to use condoms [2].

Myth: Black YMSM on the “down low” are responsible for higher rates of HIV.
Fact: Black YMSM are less likely to identify as gay and to disclose their sexual identity to others. However, there is no relationship between these differences and HIV risk behaviors [3-4]. Also, this perpetuates the stereotype that Black communities are homophobic.

Myth: Black YMSM use substances that put them at higher risk.
Fact: Black YMSM show lower rates of substance use than other YMSM, including substances linked with HIV risk (like crystal meth) [2].

Myth: Black YMSM are less likely to get tested.
Fact: Black YMSM are just as likely to get HIV tested as YMSM of other races. Black MSM of all ages are actually more likely to get tested (and repeat tested) than other MSM [2].

If all of that is true, why do Black YMSM have higher rates of HIV?

That’s a great question, and scientists are still trying to figure it out! Here are a few ideas:

  • Black MSM are more impacted by structural factors like poverty, low education, incarceration, and unemployment, and these barriers have been linked with HIV [2].
  • People are more likely to have sex partners who are the same race as them, so Black YMSM are more likely to have sex with other Black MSM. They are also more likely to have older sex partners. Since rates of HIV are higher among Black MSM (especially older Black MSM), Black YMSM are more likely to have sex partners who are living with HIV [2].

Why does this matter?

Awareness of the impact of HIV on Black YMSM has helped focus research and interventions on this population, and that’s important. However, myths like the ones above have also increased the stigma faced by Black YMSM. By educating yourself and others about the facts, you can help reduce HIV stigma!

A photo of two black men sitting together, holding each other. The men are holding their hands together to form a heart.

Trent Kelley, “OUT in the OPEN: Gee & Juan on House Hunters,” October 18, 2013.

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[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012, December). New HIV infections in the United States. Retrieved from:

[2] Millett, G. A., Peterson, J. L., Flores, S. A., Hart, T. A., Jeffries, W. L., Wilson, P. A., … Remis, R. S. (2012). Comparisons of disparities and risks of HIV infection in black and other men who have sex with men in Canada, UK, and USA: A meta-analysis. Lancet, 380, 341-348.

[3] Millett, G. A., Peterson, J. L., Wolitski, R. J., & Stal, R. (2006). Greater risk for HIV infection of Black men who have sex with men: A critical literature review. American Journal of Public Health, 96, 1007-1019.

[4] Millett, G. A., Malebranche, D., Mason, B., & Spikes, P. (2005). Focusing “down low”: Bisexual black men, HIV risk and heterosexual transmission. Journal of the National Medical Association, 97(7 Suppl), 52S-59S.

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