Objective: To assess the perceptions of gay and bisexual men concerning the risk of HIV transmission through various sexual practices with a new sex partner depending on that partner's disclosed HIV status, antiretroviral treatment status, and viral load.
Methods: Study participants read four different scenarios describing sexual situations with a new partner and rated each scenario for risk of HIV transmission. HIV status and antiretroviral treatment status disclosed by the new sex partner were varied across four scenarios: unknown HIV status; HIV-negative; HIV-positive and not taking highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART); and HIV-positive and taking HAART with an undetectable viral load.
Results: Study participants were 472 men attending a gay pride festival who reported that they were HIV-negative. Eighty-nine percent of the men were white, and the mean age of the study participants was 35.8 years. Of the four scenarios, sex with an HIV-positive partner not taking HAART was rated as posing the greatest risk. Sex with an HIV-positive partner taking HAART who had an undetectable viral load was not consistently viewed as riskier than sex with an HIV-negative partner or a man with an unknown HIV status.
Conclusions: The current study provides preliminary evidence for the effect of disclosure of HIV serostatus, use of HAART, and the presence of an undetectable viral load on the perceptions of sexual risk for HIV-negative men. The findings suggest that some gay and bisexual men judge risk based on the perceived HIV status of their sex partners and not on the general assumption that all sex partners entail equal risk, as many prevention campaigns have emphasized.