HIV's Bisexual Bridge to Women
Risk Posed By 'Down Low' Men Still Unknown
WebMD News Archive
The Down Low: Not Just Black Men
Black men call it the DL: the down low. Fearing loss of
community support, men living this lifestyle keep their bisexuality -- and
their sexual relationships with other men -- secret from their female
Whether they call it the DL or not, many white and Latino men
also keep their sexual affairs with men secret from their female sex
"Most people believe this is only something happening with
black men," CDC scientist Greg Millet, MPH, tells WebMD. "We see it in
Latino and white men, too. They say they are heterosexual but report sex with
other men in the last three months, in the last year, in the last five years.
Sexual identity is not destiny."
John Peterson, PhD, professor of psychology at Atlanta's
Georgia State University, has studied the issue for a long time.
"The DL is a new name for an old issue," Peterson tells
WebMD. "Bisexual men not telling their female partners about their male
relationships takes place across all races and ethnicities. But what we really
don't know is how these men behave when they have primary male or female
Sex, Risky Sex, and Very Risky Sex
What is known about bisexual men suggests that those who have
long-term relationships with women may have different HIV risks than those who
"In previous studies, those with mainly female partners
engaged in far fewer sex behaviors with men than men with no female
partners," Millet says. "So we have to be careful about how we
characterize these men. The little data we have is that is not the case -- they
don't have the same risks."
Secret affairs put the unwary partner at risk of HIV and STDs.
But there are different levels of risk. Not all sex behaviors carry the same
risk of spreading HIV, says Joseph P. Stokes, PhD, professor emeritus at the
University of Illinois in Chicago. Stokes is well known for his studies of
"We found a long time ago that two-thirds of the time, the
female was not aware of the extracurricular sex the behaviorally bisexual man
was doing," Stokes tells WebMD. "But it is a stretch to say this always
puts the women at risk of HIV infection."