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New Mexico: Project Targets Unsafe Sex in Gay Community

September 16, 2002

Based on the premise that safe sex has to be a community objective, the Mpowerment Project is one of the few programs overcoming a trend toward sexual recklessness among gay men, according to University of California-San Francisco researchers. The rate of unprotected sex among young gay men in Albuquerque dropped by 12 percent between 1996 and 1999, largely due to the Mpowerment Project, according to the researchers, who presented their findings at the 14th International AIDS Conference. Meanwhile, the rate climbed by 42 percent during that period in Austin, Texas, and by 26 percent in Phoenix.

"Before this program came along, I never really talked about sex with my peers," said John Hamiga, 32, who coordinates the Albuquerque program. "It was an accepted thing that, 'Oh, some guys are going to get HIV.' What we've proved is that people want alternatives."

Researchers estimate that 2,300 young gay and bisexual men live in Albuquerque, and on a good night 100 of them will visit the Mpower House off Central Ave. The University of California opened the house as part of its intervention study in 1997. A year later, New Mexico AIDS Services took it over. The men who participate decide the kinds of activities they want to offer over a four-month period. They meet in large and small groups to discuss issues that concern them. The emphasis throughout is on safe choices about sex, drugs, alcohol and relationships. Members also hand out free condoms and brochures.

In the American Journal of Community Psychology, the researchers wrote that many young gay men associate AIDS with "older gay men with mustaches who go to leather bars." Instead of relying on health professionals, the Mpowerment Project "relies on peers as agents of change since peers exert tremendous influence at this stage of life." "A fear-based approach isn't very useful for long-term behavior change," said Greg Rebchook, a research psychologist with the university. "For that, you need something more substantial. You need the entire community to support the message."

The program's success has led to the launching of similar efforts in Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Honolulu, Miami Beach, Boulder, Colo., and San Jose and Walnut Creek, Calif.

Back to other CDC news for September 16, 2002

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Adapted from:
Albuquerque Journal
09.09.02; Ross Grant

This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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