A new survey from the New York City Health Department of 452 New York City men who have sex with other men (MSM) found that 39% had not disclosed their sexual orientation to their doctors – a lapse that greatly reduced their odds of being tested for HIV, said researchers.

African-American, Hispanic, and Asian men who had sex with men were far less likely to disclose their sexual activities.

The study showed that men who disclose having sex with men were twice as likely as those who did not to have been tested for HIV. The low rate of HIV testing among non-disclosers means that unless providers know that a patient has a risk factor for HIV, they are not offering the test.

“Being frank about sexual behaviour when you see the doctor of your choice will help you get the services and information you need to stay healthy,” said Dr. Elizabeth Begier Director of HIV Epidemiology.

The study found that not only are doctors hesitant to ask patients about their sexual practices, but MSM are often reluctant to volunteer such information – especially if they do not regard themselves as gay.

While the overall rate of disclosure was just 61% among MSM in New York City, the rate increased to 78% among those who identified themselves as homosexual. These men may have less apprehension about how their homosexuality is perceived and were more likely to tell their doctor.

“These findings show that the stigma of homosexuality can be harmful to people’s health,” said Dr. Monica Sweeney, Assistant Commissioner. “Because of the fear and discrimination that still surround coming out, we are missing opportunities to stop the spread of HIV.”

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