HIV/AIDS: Loss and Grief

HIV/AIDS continues to be a major factor in gay male life. Though not a “gay disease,” HIV/AIDS has long been associated with gay men. Behaviors—risky sex or sharing needles, for example—are the risk factors, not the orientation. Still, gay men are at greater risk, since so many gay men are HIV-infected, and having sex or sharing needles in an unsafe way with another gay man may increase the risk of exposure to the virus. For more information, please refer to the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment’s Treatment Improvement Protocol 37, titled Substance Abuse Treatment for Persons With HIV/AIDS (2000).

The percentage of HIV-infected people in the United States who are gay has steadily dropped, but there are still many infected gay men. There are recent increases in the HIV infection rates in younger gay men, especially in urban areas (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1998).

New infections are, of course, due to exposure to HIV through risky behaviors. Studies of gay men who have risky sex and know about precautions for safer sex report that they were much more likely to have risky sex after alcohol or drug use (Stall & Wiley, 1988).

Almost every gay man has lost friends or lovers to AIDS, and almost every gay man knows someone who is HIV infected. The grief and loss gay men feel and share is profound and has to be a consideration in working with any gay man.