CDC: “Down Low” Men Not Responsible For HIV Among Black Women

Jim Burroway

October 16th, 2009

African-American women make up 61% of all new HIV cases among women in the U.S., and they are 18 times more likely to become infected than White women. Until now, it was believed that this exceptionally high infection rate was due to bisexual African-American men. But a new statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention throws cold water on that theory:

Heterosexual black men with multiple sex partners — not bisexual men who secretly have sex with men — are responsible for high rates of HIV among black women, according to a senior CDC official.

“We have looked to see what proportion of infections is coming from male partners who are bisexual and found there are actually relatively few,” said Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention. “More are male partners who are having female partners and are injecting drugs or using drugs or have some other risks that may put those female partners at risk of acquiring HIV.”

…”What we\’re seeing is a concentration of the epidemic among the poor, among ethnic minorities and racial minorities in the United States,” Fenton said.

Among gay men, African-Americans are bearing a disproportionate brunt of HIV infections. In the most tragic example, Black teens make up only 13% of the nation’s teen population but they account for 69% of new HIV/AIDS cases for those among the 13-19 age group.

Ben in Oakland

October 16th, 2009

I don’t understand.

If it is not The gays visiting this woe unto black women, then it must be…

…the straights.

How odd to see heteros accept responsibility.


October 16th, 2009

What I find strange here is that the blame is still put on men. Now that they’ve said it’s heterosexual men, surely the next logical step is to accept that the women they are promiscuous with are also to blame. (If you ask people how many sexual partners they have had, men will always give higher figures than women will; simple mathematics shows that for straights this is impossible.)


October 16th, 2009

simple mathematics shows that for straights this is impossible.

Unless they’re actually bi of course.. ;)

Good to see they actually did some research instead of letting that poor assumption stand.


October 16th, 2009

Men on the Down Low BLACK WHITE HISPANIC will probably never acknowledge that they are gay, nor will they even admit
that they are bisexual.

‘Heterosexual black men with multiple sex partners’. . .a hook up is rarely seen as a partner.

David Blakeslee

October 16th, 2009


“Among gay men, African-Americans are bearing a disproportionate brunt of HIV infections. In the most tragic example, Black teens make up only 13% of the nation’s teen population but they account for 69% of new HIV/AIDS cases for those among the 13-19 age group.”


October 16th, 2009


“Partner” in this sense means anyone you have intercourse with, even as a hook-up.

Timothy Kincaid

October 16th, 2009

Only about 12% of GBT men are infected with HIV, but in some urban settings like Chicago, black GBT men have infection rates of about 30%.

David Blakeslee

October 16th, 2009

It is where the new cases are occurring that is horrendous.

Regan DuCasse

October 16th, 2009

Over fifteen years ago, this statistic among black women was in evidence and prompted me to volunteer for APLA as a hotline counselor. The revelation of Magic Johnson’s HIV infection made our lines blow up like you wouldn’t believe. Over and over again I found myself exasperated by the straight black men who didn’t want to wear a condom.
Many, too many, of my black women friends believed what I called a stale myth that simply supported their prejudices about gay men and HIV, rather than the reality of the promiscuity of straight black men.

I knew, I KNEW that it wasn’t gay men who sleep with women that was the culprit. That in itself is a highly unlikely scenario.
All one has to look at is the pregnancy rates too to know how much UNPROTECTED sex black hetero young people were having!

Multiple sex partners is common enough among young black straight males to be a major concern regarding STD’s.

The onus of birth control is put on women, and certainly the costs of using the pill AND condoms in tandem is out of reach for inner city kids.

This isn’t news to me and it shouldn’t be to any black person paying serious attention to the black cultural mores that not only make HIV/AIDS so pernicious in America, but Africa as well.


October 16th, 2009

Seems to me the main problem here is drug use with shared needles. The men get infected and then pass it on to their female partners. 100% straight men who do not use IV drugs will almost never get HIV.


October 17th, 2009

I am so glad to see this. As a bisexual woman, it upsets me to see bisexual people of both genders portrayed as dangerous Typhoid Marys, and the media sure seemed to love this “down low” thing for a bit. I dated a bi man for a while, too. It didn’t work out, but not because of either of us being bi–it was just one of those relationships that depreciates, like a new car, over the years. Yet I was constantly asked by straight women, “Aren’t you *scared* that he’ll give you AIDS?” I was scareder of the spring poking out of his mattress and his habit of giving all his stupid redneck buddies keys to his house!

Of course bi people can transmit HIV, but so the hell can heterosexuals, and thanks to the CDC for saying that so plainly. I hope the message is heard. I hope that the real problems are addressed, and that people of all sexual orientations are vigilant, and that the awesome bisexual men I’ve known in my life can find some vindication.


October 17th, 2009

“100% straight men who do not use IV drugs will almost never get HIV.”

If what Magic Johnson said is true, he must have been very unlucky.

Timothy Kincaid

October 17th, 2009


In Africa, 100% straight men who do not use IV drugs are quite likely to get HIV.

However, monogamous people of all orientations and on all continents will almost never get HIV.


October 19th, 2009

“What I find strange here is that the blame is still put on men.”

Duncan, it is not strange at all from a public health perspective. Although I wouldn’t necessarily use the word “blame” when referring to HIV infection, in your comment I sense an undertone that you think men are somehow unfairly being targeted as being HIV transmitters and that you think women have been absolved of responsibility.

While I do think everyone with knowledge of how HIV is transmitted has the duty to protect her or himself from infection, at least two reasons exist for the focus on men here. One, a woman is twice as likely to contract HIV from an HIV-positive man, than a man is likely to contract it from an HIV-infected woman during penile-vaginal intercourse. HIV-positive men who are promiscuous are more likely to transmit HIV to a sexual partner than are women who are promiscuous.

Two, if we assume that men really do have more sexual partners than women, we should be more worried about male promiscuity from an HIV standpoint. Combining the fact that some HIV-infected heterosexual men are sexually promiscuous, with the fact that women are more likely to get HIV from a man than give it to him, I don’t think the focus on men in this article is misplaced. It is merely offering an explanation of how transmission occurs in a population that has been hard hit by HIV.

That being said, effective behavioral HIV interventions do target both men and women, so no one really is getting off the hook, so to speak.

Debbie Thurman

October 20th, 2009

Interesting discussion, and not unrelated to the other one on the Uganda problem.

Duncan said: “(If you ask people how many sexual partners they have had, men will always give higher figures than women will; simple mathematics shows that for straights this is impossible.)” Perhaps Duncan could show us this wondrous math that proves women are as promiscuous as men are. I presume that is what you are saying.

It is quite tragic that the black culture, here or in Africa, encourages multiple sexual partners. Africans may be fighting a losing battle in terms of turning that cultural phenonemon around. Of course straights are highly culpable for transmitting HIV and other STDs. All promiscuous folk are on the hook for it, straight or GLB.

I take it the CDC has not retracted their previous reports that place MSM (men who have sex with men) at the higher end of the risk scale for new cases of HIV. It is refreshing, albeit sad, to see the whole story, however, about the black community.


October 20th, 2009

It is quite tragic that the black culture, here or in Africa, encourages multiple sexual partners.

Oh, Debbie sweetie, I am sure you didn’t mean your comment to be quite as blatantly and appallingly racist as it sounded.

Debbie Thurman

October 20th, 2009

“Oh, Debbie sweetie, I am sure you didn’t mean your comment to be quite as blatantly and appallingly racist as it sounded.”

You’re right. I had no racist intentions whatsoever. My Net-surfing research this week has led me to several mentions of the cultural practice of several lifelong partners (we’d call that polygamy) in some African regions. One of those was at “However, researchers have found that in some areas it is not uncommon for people to have two or more regular sex partners at the same time.”

Regardless of that assertion, we need to get off the racist bandwagon in this country. It’s gotten beyond ridiculous. There are cultural practices that help to contribute to the proliferation of HIV and other STDs, unwanted pregnancies and poverty. How would you explain the numbers, some of which folks like Timothy have cited in this comment thread?

I also am wondering about all the HIV/AIDS data at the CDC, such as the many charts found on this page: I don’t think one new survey of the black population cancels all the other years of data collecting. In 2007 (you can verify on the appropriate CDC chart), African-American cases of HIV outstripped all other populations by far as did MSM contact cases. Numbers are dispassionate and non-racist. They just are.


October 22nd, 2009

did anyone tell Oprah?


December 15th, 2010

You people actually believe what the CDC has to say!?!? Please! Gay dudes, bi dudes, and junkies spread this stuff like wildfire. I’m a REAL straight man and I never use condoms and I’ve been tested for HIV/AIDS numerous times. I frequently give blood too. ALWAYS NEGATIVE! Not saying the straight can’t get it. And yes, I will agree that men spread it more than women. But not the straight brothers. You gotta have it to spread it. Note to the men out there. If you have or have ever had any encounters with a dude then you don’t fall into the straight category, IMO. Be honest with yourselves. YOU’RE GAY!! Stop tainting all the sisters. You’re ruining them for guys like me that enjoy the opposite sex.

Priya Lynn

December 16th, 2010

El thinks real men never use condoms. You’re not a real man El, and your time is coming.

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