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Study: Men's 'Down Low' Sex Often Stereotyped

Researchers Say Media Attention of Down Low Behavior Is Misdirected
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June 15, 2005 -- Media attention has recently lighted on men who have sex with other men "on the down low" (without telling their primary female partner about it). Now, researchers say the reality doesn't always match the stereotypes.

Mainstream coverage of down low, or DL, behavior has often featured the black community. For instance, author J.L. King's 2004 book On the Down Low: A Journey Into the Lives of "Straight" Black Men Who Sleep With Men hit The New York Times' best-seller list and was featured on Oprah Winfrey's TV talk show.

But the DL also exists in other communities, as CDC researchers told the 2005 National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta.

'Misdirected Attention'

More than a million people in the U.S. are living with HIV, according to another report presented at the conference. Nearly half (47%) are black, 34% are white, and 17% are Hispanic. Men account for about three-quarters of HIV cases. By risk group, men who have sex with men represent the largest population living with HIV (45%) followed by high-risk heterosexual contact (27%).

New HIV infections are rising among blacks, women, and people who get the virus through heterosexual contact, says the report.

"As a society, we need to challenge our assumptions about why African-Americans, men who have sex with men, and other populations are at high risk for HIV," says Phil Wilson, executive director of the Black AIDS Institute, in a news release.

"Broad labels like 'down low' and misdirected attention on small subsets of the population do little to advance HIV prevention," he continues. "Instead, we need to focus on reducing specific behaviors that place both men and women at continued risk."

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