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HIV and Young Men Who Have Sex With Men

June 2011

HIV/AIDS and Young Men Who Have Sex With Men
Young people in the United States remain at risk for HIV infection. An estimated 56,300 Americans are infected with HIV each year.1 Of these, 34% -- or approximately 19,000 -- are adolescents or young adults aged 13-29 years.1 Young men who have sex with men (YMSM), especially black YMSM, are at highest risk. This fact sheet highlights the ongoing risk for HIV infection among YMSM and underscores the need to reach each new generation with effective HIV prevention messages and services. Schools and education agencies are important partners in this effort.


HIV infection affects certain groups of young people disproportionately, especially:

Young men who have sex with men:

Black adolescents:

Black YMSM:

Figure 1. HIV Infection Diagnoses Among MSM, by Age Group, 2005-2008 -- 37 States and 5 U.S. Dependent Areas*

Figure 1. HIV Infection Diagnoses Among MSM, by Age Group, 2005-2008 -- 37 States and 5 U.S. Dependent Areas*

* In the 37 states and five U.S. dependent areas with confidential name-based reporting since at least January 2005.

Figure 2. HIV Infection Diagnoses Among YMSM Aged 13-24 Years, by Race/Ethnicity, 2005-2008 -- 37 States and 5 U.S. Dependent Areas

Figure 2. HIV Infection Diagnoses Among YMSM Aged 13-24 Years, by Race/Ethnicity, 2005-2008 -- 37 States and 5 U.S. Dependent Areas*

a Hispanics/Latinos can be of any race.

The reasons for these disparities are varied and not well understood, but possible factors include the following:

Racial/ethnic disparities in HIV/AIDS among young MSM are also not well understood. The disparities do not appear to reflect individual racial or ethnic differences in risk behaviors such as unprotected anal sex, commercial sex work, sex with a known HIV-positive partner, or HIV testing history.10 Possible factors include the high prevalence of HIV in black male social networks, elevated rates of STDs among black men, and the reduced likelihood of black men receiving treatment (which can reduce the amount of HIV in the blood and potentially decrease transmission).10

Strategies for Addressing HIV Among YMSM in Schools

Collect and Analyze Data on Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Associated Health Risk Behaviors Among Youth

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey** is being used by some states and large urban school districts to monitor health risk behaviors and selected health outcomes among sexual minority students. States and school districts participating in the YRBS can add optional questions to the standard YRBS questionnaire, including:

During your life, with whom have you had sexual contact?

☐ I have never had sexual contact
☐ Males
☐ Females
☐ Females and males

Which of the following best describes you?

☐ Heterosexual (straight)
☐ Gay or lesbian
☐ Bisexual
☐ Not sure

In 2009, a total of 17 states and large urban school districts included one or both of these questions on their YRBS. Among these:

Analyses of YRBS data have contributed greatly to knowledge about health risks among gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth.11-13 A CDC analysis of data from 13 YRBS sites found that sexual minority students, especially those who identified as homosexual or bisexual, were disproportionately likely to engage in many health risk behaviors, including sexual risk behaviors (such as having sexual intercourse for the first time at younger ages, having multiple sex partners, and not using condoms); tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use; and behaviors related to attempted suicide.13

Adding these YRBS questions enables states and districts to identify risk behaviors among sexual minority students and then adjust intervention priorities accordingly. Furthermore, by documenting that many youth do engage in same-sex sexual activity and various health risk behaviors, these data can help establish the imperative for meeting the health needs of sexual minority youth in schools.

Establish Safe and Supportive School Environments

HIV prevention activities are more likely to have an impact if they take into account the context in which risk behaviors occur. For YMSM and other sexual minority students, this means addressing the challenges these young people face at school. A survey using a convenience sample of more than 7,000 middle and high school students across the United States found that, in the past year,

For youth to thrive in their schools and communities, they need to feel socially, emotionally, and physically safe and supported. A positive school climate has been associated with decreased depression, suicidal feelings, substance use, and unexcused school absences among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students.15,16

Gay-straight alliances (GSAs) are one approach being used to create safe and welcoming school environments. Research has shown that in schools with support groups such as GSAs, lesbian, gay, and bisexual students were less likely to experience threats of violence, miss school because they felt unsafe, or attempt suicide than those in schools without such groups.1


Provide Professional Development for School Staff

School health professionals can benefit from training to help them understand the needs of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and shape behavioral health messages accordingly. During 2006-2011, CDC funded the American Psychological Association (APA) Healthy Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Students Project to help schools and youth-serving organizations improve health and mental health outcomes for sexual minority youth. APA created a training manual and offered science-based workshops for school counselors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers on how to effectively reach sexual minority students with HIV prevention messages and other health information. Many education agencies funded by CDC have formed their own training cadres to offer the workshop locally.

Implement School-Based HIV Prevention Policies, Practices, and Interventions

CDC funds state, territorial, tribal, and local education agencies to help schools implement policies and practices to reduce sexual risk behaviors. Recognizing that YMSM are a major risk group for HIV infection, a number of these agencies are taking action to address the needs of sexual minority youth. Examples of program activities include:

Specific program activities are described at

In 2011, CDC awarded funds to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network (GSAN) to assist CDC-funded public health and education agencies and community-based organizations in establishing policy and environmental changes to help schools and communities meet the health and mental health needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth.

CDC also funds health departments and community organizations to promote the use of evidence-based HIV prevention interventions, many of which are geared toward YMSM and young people of color. Information about these interventions is available at

* In the 37 states and five U.S. dependent areas with confidential name-based reporting since at least January 2005.

** The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) monitors health risk behaviors and the prevalence of obesity and asthma among youth and young adults. YRBSS includes a national school-based survey conducted by CDC and surveys conducted by state, territorial, and local education and health agencies and tribal governments. Information is available at

† Sexual minority students are defined as students who identify themselves as gay or lesbian, bisexual, or unsure of their sexual identity or who have had sexual contact with persons of the same sex or with both males and females.


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