A focus on psycho-social factors linked to HIV among men who have sex with men

Placing what is termed 'Men who have sex with men' at the centre of the conversation around HIV/AIDS, in this week's Talking Sex feature sexologist and couple and sex therapist Dr Eve explores the risks associated with contracting the virus despite the many treatments available.

Citing research, Dr Eve says a total of 5.3-million South Africans under the age of 50 are HIV-positive.

She says according to the United Nations Children's Fund, 34% of HIV-positive people in East and Southern Africa and 60% of people in West and Central Africa are not currently on treatment.

While biomedical technology such ARVS, PEP (post-exposure prophylactics ) and Truvada, a pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) have been approved and are available, Dr Eve says the incidence of new cases continues to increase.

We're really focusing on men who have sex with men and the treatment and why there is still such a high incidence and rising of HIV when we have these incredible treatments that we would have never imagined when AIDS first hit us in the 1980s.

Dr Eve, Sexologist and Couple and Sex Therapist

Looking at the research presented by the HIV Prevention Lab director Dr Trevor Hart, she unpacks the psycho-social factors that lead to incidents of HIV among men who have sex with men.

She emphasises the fact that the conversation about behaviour and that the main message that came through for her around this research is the need to look at the multiple factors that are impacting men who have sex with men and put them at higher risk of HIV.

Men who have sex with men, the decision making that they are doing is based on other factors. They are known as psycho-social factors.

Dr Eve, Sexologist and Couple and Sex Therapist

He [Hart] found in his research that men who have sex with men have a higher incidence of feeling socially isolated, depressed and anxious. They also have a high vulnerability to childhood sexual abuse, drug abuse, to trying to escape partner violence... these factors seemingly have a higher impact on risk with men who have sex with men.

Dr Eve, Sexologist and Couple and Sex Therapist

She says there is a lot of sexual anxiety for 'men who have sex with men' as well as stigmatisation that comes with accessing treatment.

We cannot deny that there is still an ongoing stigma, violence towards men who have sex with men, which keeps them closeted and therefore denies them access to walk into a clinic and to exercise their right to be getting these biomedical technologies that are now freely available in our country.

Dr Eve, Sexologist and Couple and Sex Therapist

*Note: Dr Eve explains the term men who have sex with men is used in public health because "the category needs to be broadened", without excluding men who self identify as heterosexual cis-gender men. She says the term is meant to be inclusive of everyone.

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