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Risky sex and AIDS.

The first national survey of behaviors that increase the risk of contracting AIDS indicates that a large majority of people with multiple sex partners do not use condoms, particularly in black and Hispanic communities.

The 1990 survey, coordinated by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, involved telephone interviews with two sample populations: a randomly selected group of about 2,800 adults across the nation, and a group of nearly 12,000 adults living in 20 major U.S. cities. The latter group, theoretically at greatest risk for developing AIDS, consisted of roughly equal numbers of whites, blacks and Hispanics.

Eight of 10 people in the national sample reported having one sex partner in the previous year, while 8 percent reported multiple sex partners. About 10 percent said they had no sexual encounters during that year. About 12 percent of the urban group acknowledged having more than one sex partner. Reports of multiple partners came from nearly 40 percent of unmarried white and black men between ages 18 and 45, and from 75 percent of unmarried Hispanic men between ages 18 and 29. These men represent prime targets for AIDS education programs, says Margaret Dolcini of UCSF.

Only 17 percent of all participants reporting multiple sex partners said they used condoms without fail in the past year. One in three used condoms in at least half of their sexual encounters. Among blacks and Hispanics, one-third of those with multiple sex partners and one-half of those with risky partners -- who took drugs intravenously, had other sex partners or recently received blood transfusion -- never used condoms.

One in four of all study participants had undergone testing for the AIDS virus, notes Thomas J. Coates of UCSF. Most of those who sought the test lived in cities, and about 3 percent of these city dwellers tested positive for antibodies to the virus. Curiously, two-thirds of those tested reported no behaviors that put them at risk for AIDS, Coates points out. Their reasons for taking the test remain unclear, he says.

Male homosexual acts occurring in the six months preceding the survey were reported by about 1 percent of the men in the national sample and 4 percent of the men in the urban sample, reports Ron D. Stall of UCSF. Another 1 percent and 2 percent of men in the respective groups reported bisexuality in the previous six months. Although these figures represent conservative estimates, the commonly cited prevalence rate of 10 percent for male homosexuality may be too high, Stall asserts.

He notes that the survey yielded virtually no evidence of men engaging in unprotected anal sex with both men and women--a behavior considered a potential bridge for the transmission of the virus to the general population.
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Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 31, 1991
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