"But is this radical shift from the behavioral to the biomedical the right course of action for all of us?
For me there are two bigger issues — one which I will fully address here, and the other to which I will allude."
Despite our best attempts over the last 30 years, the HIV epidemic continues unabated. There are 1.2 million identified infections in the United States, with another several hundred thousand likely undiagnosed. The impact of this ongoing health challenge is noted most dramatically and definitively evidenced among gay men, who represent somewhere in the vicinity of two to five percent of the population — but constitute 50 percent of all AIDS-related deaths, over 50 percent of all infections and over 50 percent of newly diagnosed infections.
With millions and millions of dollars spent on HIV prevention and research — and despite the best attempts of behavioral researchers and leading AIDS service organizations to modify our risk behaviors — the epidemic continues. Initial campaigns focusing on using a condom have, over time, morphed into programs underscoring the importance of efficacy, temptation and motivation to help shape behavior. But the infections continue to spread. So what has gone wrong?
Some, including myself at times, have pointed the finger at behavioral change programs that are overly simplistic, focusing on sex as an act free of emotion or passion (and in many cases, drugs). But sex is more than simple logic, or rational decision-making. Many behavioral programs have oversimplified a very complex behavior — and the programs we have developed or the research we have enacted has ultimately failed to translate to real lives. I often wonder if the folks developing these programs actually have sex themselves.
Some may argue that we have contained the disease. But how true is that when young gay men, especially Blacks and Latinos, are seroconverting at such high rates? Even among White men, there is an uptick in the incidence of new infections as this group navigates its 30s. We simply haven’t gotten it right.