Sustaining safe practice: twenty years on

Soc Sci Med. 2003 Jul;57(1):1-12. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(02)00303-9.


This paper examines the ways in which populations at risk of HIV in the developed world have enculturated the knowledges and technologies of both the medical and the social sciences. By revisiting a number of review papers and by reviewing findings from a range of studies, we argue that gay men have appropriated information that has enabled them to sustain safe practices while they have eschewed information that has made maintenance difficult. The paper describes a range of risk reduction strategies and compares the responses of populations at risk of HIV in the years before the advent of highly active antiviral therapy (HAART) with their responses after the introduction of HAART in 1996. We concentrate our argument on the changing responses to HIV risk of gay men, although occasionally illustrate our argument with reference to the responses of injecting drug users. The responses of gay men to risk post-HAART--particularly those who reside in Australia--speak to the adoption of a range of considered strategies, not altogether safe, to reduce harm. We argue that such strategies need to be understood and addressed within a 'new' social public health, that is, a public health that takes what social analysis has to say seriously. The paper examines the differences between the traditional, the 'modern' epidemiological/clinical and the 'new' social or socio-cultural public healths and describes the tensions between the medical and the social science disciplines in their efforts to inform public health. Key concepts provided by social science such as agency (including individual and collective agency), alongside its methodological reflexivity are key to effective public health. The risk avoidance strategies adopted by gay men suggest a way forward by turning our attention to the ways in which medicine is taken in(to) their practice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antiretroviral Therapy, Highly Active
  • Australia
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • Homosexuality, Male*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Risk Reduction Behavior*
  • Risk-Taking
  • Safe Sex*