HIV prevention program targets young gay men through social networks and peer support for safe sex

An HIV prevention program that focuses on young gay men educating and supporting one another about safer sex has proved very effective in a major study in two West Coast communities.

Followup data showed a substantial and sustained reduction in unprotected anal intercourse--the behavior most risky for HIV transmission--among participants.

Developed by team at the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (CAPS) at the University of California, San Francisco, the program was implemented in Santa Barbara, Calif., and Eugene, Ore. Data were analyzed to determine program effectiveness and changes in patterns of high-risk behavior.

Named the "Mpowerment Project," the program is based on empowering young gay men to deal with the very real issues that they face in their daily lives--homophobia, gay bashing, discrimination, isolation, and HIV/AIDS--and then mobilizing them in a positive way to influence one another, said Susan Kegeles, PhD, an associate professor with UCSF CAPS and co-director of the project with Robert B. Hays, PhD, also with CAPS.

"Life in the U.S. for young gay men is not easy, even in the 90s. One need only look at the example of Matthew Shepard to understand that young gay men have very real fears about being openly gay in a society that does not support them. Moreover, they are trying to find their way in terms of loving and intimate relationships. Many of them have experienced sexual abuse as young people as well," she said

"The Mpowerment program gives young gay men a place to deal with personal issues about their homosexuality, about coming out, and about intimacy, and then talk about HIV safety in that context. It can't work any other way," she emphasized.

Study findings are reported in a recent issue of the journal AIDS.

The researchers found that the proportion of men who engaged in unprotected anal intercourse with non-primary partners decreased by 18 percent. The same un

Contact: Corinna Kaarlela
University of California - San Francisco

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