Research

Adolescents Take Risks With AIDS Complacency Feeds Rampant Sexual Risk Taking

Todd Zwillich
Pediatric News
October 1999

Teenage gay and bisexual boys are risking their lives by ignoring safe sex, according to interviews conducted with boys in seven major U.S. cities, in a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the public health departments.

More than 40 percent of the 3,500 boys studied said they had engaged in unprotected anal sex within the previous six months, and more than one-third did not know their HIV status, according to Linda Valleroy, Ph.D., who reported the findings at a recent national CDC-sponsored HIV prevention conference. Boys who were younger (15-to-19 years old), Asian, or more secretive about having sex with males were less likely to have been tested for HIV. Nearly half of those who had not been tested said that they believed they were at low risk for HIV.

Researchers offered HIV testing to those participating in the study; 7 percent were found to be infected with the virus. Those who were African American or of mixed race were twice as likely to be infected.

The boys in the study were between the ages of 15-22 and were interviewed at “known social gathering places for gay men” in Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Seattle and New York City between 1994-98.

HIV is no longer perceived as a death sentence by young men who are just now becoming sexually active, and this is the likely reason why many are not being tested and not being careful. They are less likely to have friends who have died of AIDS. “The epidemic will get worse if we don’t talk to kids about how dangerous unprotected sex still is,” Dr. Valleroy told Youth Today. “Most adults are reluctant to talk to kids about sex, or ask about safe sex, but it’s really important that they do so.”

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