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There are many myths about HIV. Many still believe that it is a disease that only infects or is spread by 'gay' men. HIV is present in sperm and blood. HIV spread rapidly among gay and bisexual men because many of them had anal intercourse with multiple partners prior to knowing how to protect themselves; an awareness that came only after the virus was isolated and understood. There are very few cases in which women have been infected with HIV through sex with other women.
The primary mode of transmission of HIV between men is through anal sex without a condom. For young gay men there may be particular problems with trying to practice safer sex. Some young gay men may not feel secure about obtaining or using extra strong condoms for anal sex because if they are seen purchasing or in possession of them, it might be interpreted as a disclosure of gay identity. They also rarely have the benefit of sex education in school in which sexual behaviour between same-sex partners is discussed. This can make it very hard for young gay men to feel comfortable about negotiating safer sex.
The data on HIV infections show that there is a need, both to sustain current prevention work with young gay men and to develop new approaches. It is important to do both, so that young gay men don't forget messages about HIV and AIDS or start to think that they are no longer relevant to them and to meet the needs that arise as circumstances change over time. For example, young gay men may need to get updated information about new testing arrangements in their area or condoms. At the same time basic information needs to be provided to them as well.
Good, effective prevention work with young gay men has the same basic elements as prevention work with any group or community. It involves:
Raising awareness about HIV/AIDS, challenging myths and assumptions, and reducing stigma by providing people with accurate, up-to-date information and opportunities to clarify their attitudes and values.
Providing opportunities for young people to develop their personal and social skills in order to enable and empower them to make decisions and carry them through in terms of protecting and promoting their sexual health.
Providing accessible and appropriate sexual health services and advice including access to condoms.
Providing access to treatment and care in a youth-friendly environment.