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Morality, responsibility and risk: negative gay men’s perceived proximity to HIV

AIDS Care, 2008, 20(5): 576 - 581 (doi: 10.1080/09540120701867123).

Authors: Peter Keogh

Abstract

In order to examine the ways in which men's perceptions of their social surroundings influence how they experience and negotiate sexual risk, we conducted a qualitative study with 36 men who lived in London or Birmingham, had five or more male partners in the previous year and believed themselves to be HIV negative. Men were recruited into two sub-samples (18 men each). The high proximity group personally knew someone with HIV and had a positive sexual partner in the year prior to interview. The low proximity group had never personally known anyone with HIV and had never had a sexual partner who they knew or believed to be HIV positive. Data was collected via semi-structured interviews. Men in the low proximity groups used moral discourses to articulate beliefs and social norms around the disclosure of HIV which may act as a deterrent to sexual partners disclosing. Although most expected positive sexual partners to disclose, they had difficulty in articulating how they would respond to disclosure and how they would manage any consequent sexual risk. For the men in the high proximity group, living around HIV constituted a part of everyday life. Disclosure and discussion of HIV did not violate their social norms. The majority did not expect positive sexual partners to disclose to them and knew how they would respond to such disclosure if it occurred. Men in this group did not use moral discourses but talked practically about better and worse ways of managing disclosure. Proximity to HIV is mediated by strong social norms and self-perpetuating moral discourses which effectively creates a social divide between men who perceive themselves to be in low proximity to HIV and their HIV positive contacts and sexual partners. Men with perceived low proximity to HIV are appropriate as a target group for HIV prevention.

Keywords

Gay men; sexual risk; social norms; social networks; HIV

Available online

Tagged under: All gay & bisexual men