Looking past the 'down low:' New research

September 23, 2008,

The popular media in the U.S. have focused too much on moral issues surrounding black bisexual men who do not disclose their same-sex behaviors to female lovers, otherwise known as men "on the Down Low," with this focus creating a stigma that interferes with effective public health strategies, says Indiana University sexual health expert Brian Dodge.

"The media and general public are obsessed with disclosure, but there is no evidence that disclosing leads to safer behaviors -- or, indeed, that not disclosing leads to riskier sexual behaviors," said Dodge, associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

"And what benefit do men have for disclosing their bisexuality in a society where positive support and affirming resources for bisexual men are all but non-existent, and negative stereotypes prevail? This is another example of an ongoing debate between public health and public morality. Sexual risk behavior is a public health issue; disclosure of sexual behavior is, in large part, a personal and moral issue."

In a study published this month in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Dodge and his research colleagues suggest that broader social awareness and acceptance of male bisexuality is a necessary component of HIV prevention efforts targeted at men who have sex with both men and women. This would be in addition to traditional individual-level behavior programs.

The study was based on interviews with 30 black men in New York City who have sex with both men and women. Researchers found that the men in the study feared the consequences of disclosing their bisexuality, especially to their female partners. In addition, some men feared that disclosing put them at risk for physical harm and emotional harm.

According to Dodge and David Malebranche, assistant professor of medicine at Emory University's School of Medicine and also a contributor to this month's Archives of Sexual Behavior, black bisexual men have been largely blamed for the high rates of HIV among heterosexual black women.

"There are bisexually active black men who are contributing to the epidemic in the black community, but there are also heterosexual men and women, and homosexual men who are contributing," said Malebranche. "With little evidence to support it, the idea that such a small population is causing all or the majority of infections among heterosexual black women is a fallacy at best."

Both researchers agree that larger social, economic and structural issues are playing a role in the epidemic.

"Black men aren't having unprotected sex more so than other racial/ethnic groups, so it's more than individual behaviors that are driving this disparity alone," says Malebranche.

The IU study "Beyond the Down Low: Sexual Risk, Protection, and Disclosure Among At-Risk Black men Who Have Sex with Both Men and Women (MSMW)" is part of a special section dedicated to research on black and Latino bisexual men. The special section was guest-edited by Dodge and Theo Sandfort, research scientist at the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

"The section includes nearly a dozen original papers on diverse studies of bisexual men from across the United States, as well as one from the Dominican Republic. The special section provides much-needed scientific information from both public health and theoretical perspectives," said Dodge.

Malebranche and Dodge both agree that while disclosure may be important in some respects, it is not an essential factor in curbing the spread of HIV.

"We need more common messages about human behavior and motivations for condom use that don't use moral judgments against homosexuality or bisexuality as the crux of the analysis," said Malebranche. "The science and literature backs us up on that."

Source: Indiana University

Explore further: Hip-hop music influencing more African-Americans to try 'Molly'

Related Stories

Hip-hop music influencing more African-Americans to try 'Molly'

February 12, 2018
More rap artists are talking about molly, which is the powder or crystal form of ecstasy, and that's having a big impact on Black listeners. Molly is a synthetic drug that acts as a stimulant and hallucinogenic. While research ...

Youth consider mobile health units a safe place for sexual health services

February 7, 2018
Mobile health units may offer a viable approach for helping adolescents access sexual and health services, including contraception.

How do sexual assault survivors fare?

February 1, 2018
More than 150 girls and women testified in court about how former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar sexually abused them. This is just the latest wave of survivors stepping forward to tell their stories, the result ...

Fewer Americans are getting herpes

February 7, 2018
(HealthDay)— Herpes infection rates are dropping among young Americans, and safer sex practices may be one reason why.

CDC: Many U.S. adults have never been tested for HIV

January 26, 2018
(HealthDay)—Almost 40 percent of women and more than 50 percent of men aged 15 to 44 years had never been tested for HIV between 2011 and 2015, according to a report published Jan. 25 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control ...

One in five patients report discrimination in health care

December 14, 2017
Almost one in five older patients with a chronic disease reported experiencing health care discrimination of one type or another in a large national survey that asked about their daily experiences of discrimination between ...

Recommended for you

Best of Last Year—The top Medical Xpress articles of 2017

December 20, 2017
It was a good year for medical research as a team at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, found that dancing can reverse the signs of aging in the brain. Any exercise helps, the team found, but dancing ...

Pickled in 'cognac', Chopin's heart gives up its secrets

November 26, 2017
The heart of Frederic Chopin, among the world's most cherished musical virtuosos, may finally have given up the cause of his untimely death.

Sugar industry withheld evidence of sucrose's health effects nearly 50 years ago

November 21, 2017
A U.S. sugar industry trade group appears to have pulled the plug on a study that was producing animal evidence linking sucrose to disease nearly 50 years ago, researchers argue in a paper publishing on November 21 in the ...

Female researchers pay more attention to sex and gender in medicine

November 7, 2017
When women participate in a medical research paper, that research is more likely to take into account the differences between the way men and women react to diseases and treatments, according to a new study by Stanford researchers.

Drug therapy from lethal bacteria could reduce kidney transplant rejection

August 3, 2017
An experimental treatment derived from a potentially deadly microorganism may provide lifesaving help for kidney transplant patients, according to an international study led by investigators at Cedars-Sinai.

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Sophiay
1 / 5 (1) Sep 23, 2008
It's very hard to be openly gay, lesbian or bisexual. They usually got harassed, beaten up, pushed around and called all kinds of slurs. They would say all sorts of horrible things for the wrong reasons.

So I think for GLBT, they'd better find some online community or something like that, to come out first, where they may feel support, happy, free, just like the one **BiLoves dotcom**. Also members there are very active. Hope you are the one.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.