New Report from CDC Finds Drop in Risky Sexual Behavior

This week the CDC released a report that suggests that Americans are practicing fewer risky behaviors when it comes to HIV transmission.

This week the CDC released a report that suggests that Americans are practicing fewer risky behaviors when it comes to HIV transmission. Researchers analyzed data from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) collected between 2006 and 2010 and compared it to data collected in for the same survey in 2002.  The NSFG measures HIV-risk with questions that ask about oral, vaginal, and anal intercourse, same-sex sexual behavior, condom use, and drug use. 

The report found that in 2006–2010 approximately 10 percent of men and 8 percent of women reported at least one of the HIV risk-related behavioral measures examined.  This represents a decline from 13 percent of men and 11 percent of women who reported one or more of these measures in 2002.  Researchers believe that the decline appears to be due to a decrease in sexual risk-taking behaviors.   For example:

  • In 2006‒2010, 3.9 percent of males and 1.8 percent of females had five or more sexual partners compared to 4.6 percent of males and 2.4 percent of females in 2002.
  • In 2006‒2010, 0.7 percent of males and 0.8 percent of females had a partner who injects illicit drugs compared to 2.3 percent of females and 2.9 of males in 2002.  
  • In 2006‒2010, 1.4 percent of females had a male partner who had sex with other men compared to 2.3 percent in 2002.  

According to Anjani Chandra, the report’s lead author, the reasons for the decline in risk behaviors is not clear. She notes that “some of the public health messages might be getting through. It also could be that people are reluctant to disclose that they engage in risky behaviors.  But, it could be real and reflect actual changes in behavior.”

Chandra also points out that the improvements are not the same across all demographics.  For example, 16 percent of young black men ages 15 to 24 reported at least one HIV risk-related sexual behavior, compared with 8.7 percent of Hispanic men and 6.5 percent of young white men. In addition, men who had served time in prison were far more likely (27 percent) to engage in at least one HIV risk-related sexual behavior than men who had not (7 percent) been in prison. 

Approximately 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV and new cases have leveled off at about 50,000 per year though it estimated that 20 percent of HIV-positive individuals do not know their status.  

Chandra explained that this study was valuable because it looked at behaviors on a “household level” rather than just looking at high-risk populations as HIV research has often done.  Not everyone, however, agreed that this was a new or beneficial approach.  Philip Alcabes, an associate professor in the School of Health Sciences at Hunter College/City University of New York, told USA Today that he thought this report was still looking at ADS through the “moralizing lens” of 1981: “Having failed to advocate for structural changes that would actually reduce risk of HIV acquisition and having failed to implement widespread, easily accessible syringe exchange programs, federal agencies instead spend their time studying personal behavior.”