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Soc Sci Med. 2004 Jun;58(11):2105-18.

Ambivalent tales of HIV disclosure in San Francisco.

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  • 1Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, University of California, 74 Montgomery Street Suite 600, San Francisco, CA 94105, USA.


In light of rising levels of unprotected anal intercourse (UAI) among men who have sex with men (MSM) in San Francisco, we sought to understand disclosure practices, the calculus of risk and attitudes about HIV seroconversion. In 2000, 150 MSM participated in interviews pivoting around a detailed narrative of a recent incident of UAI. In order to understand the relationship between individual and community norms, we analyzed the narratives as accounts situated within the respondents' experience of the HIV epidemic and the gay community in San Francisco. In justifying their risky sexual practices, MSM cited a community-wide shift toward non-disclosure and barebacking since the advent of highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART). Fearing rejection by HIV-positive partners who refuse to use condoms, HIV-negative men saw little advantage in disclosing to casual partners whom they perceived as overwhelmingly HIV-positive. By contrast, HIV-positive men appeared eager to disclose their positive status to release themselves from responsibility for transmission and facilitate "bareback" or unprotected sex. Disavowal of individual responsibility for safer sex in deference to community norms may contribute to the recent spiraling of risk behavior and HIV incidence. Implications for prevention policy are discussed.

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