There are many myths circulating about HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. One of these myths is that the virus is only spread through gay sex. Although this is a myth, it’s actually true that in the US, HIV is more common among gay men than among other populations.
Why is HIV so common in the gay community? What are the heterosexual vs homosexual AIDS statistics like?
Do only gay people get HIV?
It’s absolutely a myth that only gay people get HIV. Many people of all sexual orientations have HIV. The virus can be transmitted through any type of sex, including vaginal, oral, or anal sex. There are also nonsexual modes of transmission, including blood-to-blood contact when sharing drug injection equipment as well as transmission from mother to baby during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
The myth that only gay people get HIV is dangerous, because it may encourage straight people to avoid protecting themselves because they falsely believe that they can’t get the virus. It may also contribute to discrimination against gay people.
Is HIV more common in the gay community?
Although any exchange of sexual fluids creates a risk of HIV transmission, there are some sexual behaviors that are riskier than others. Anal sex is particularly risky for the receptive partner. This is because it tends to create irritation in the mucous membrane of the anus and rectum, which causes small breaks in the membrane through which the virus can more easily enter. Because gay men are more likely to engage in anal sex, this can create an increased risk for the virus in this population.
Among the more than one million new cases of HIV in 2016, more than half were acquired through male-to-male sexual contact. About a quarter of the infections were acquired through hetersexual sex.
What’s the percentage of gay men with AIDS or HIV?
Among men who are bisexual or gay, HIV statistics from the CDC indicate that 1 in 6 will be diagnosed with the virus in their lifetime. The risk is higher for those in certain racial groups. Among men who have sex with men, 1 in 2 African-Americans and 1 in 4 Latinos will be diagnosed with HIV.
CDC statistics show that the number of new HIV diagnoses has been leveling off in this population since 2010, after having increased for more than a decade before that. This is an encouraging sign, but the risk of HIV in gay and bisexual men is still substantial.
It’s very important to note that while the risk of HIV in gay and bisexual men is high, it can certainly be lowered. The consistent use of condoms during any type of penetrative sex is the best way to reduce the risk. Some gay men who are at high risk for the virus may also take a type of medication called preexposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. This involves taking HIV meds on a daily basis, in order to reduce the risk that the virus will be able to establish an infection if you do get exposed.
Unfortunately, not all gay men who have HIV know that they’re positive for the virus. Only 83% of HIV-positive gay and bisexual men are aware of their status. Because HIV often doesn’t cause significant symptoms until relatively late in the course of the disease, HIV testing is the only way to know whether a person has HIV. This requires a blood test, which can either be performed in a clinic or at home.
CDC Fact Sheet: HIV Among Gay and Bisexual Men. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/docs/factsheets/cdc-msm-508.pdf. Accessed 26 April 2022.
HIV/AIDS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/msmhealth/HIV.htm. Accessed 26 April 2022.
PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prep.html. Accessed 26 April 2022.