Sexual Networks of Racially Diverse Young MSM Differ in Racial Homophily But Not Concurrency

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Abstract

Background:

Substantial racial disparities exist in HIV infection among young men who have sex with men (YMSM). However, evidence suggests black YMSM do not engage in greater levels of risk behavior. Sexual networks may help explain this paradox. This study used egocentric exponential random graph models to examine variation in concurrency (ie, 2 or more simultaneous partners) and homophily (ie, same race/ethnicity partners) across race/ethnicity groups in a diverse sample of YMSM.

Methods:

Data for this study come from a longitudinal cohort study of YMSM. Participants (n = 1012) provided data regarding their sexual contacts during the 6 months before their first study visit. A series of egocentric exponential random graph models examined how providing separate estimates for homophily and concurrency parameters across race/ethnicity improved the fit of these models. Networks were simulated using these parameters to examine how local network characteristics impact risk at the whole network level.

Results:

Results indicated that homophily, but not concurrency, varied across race/ethnicity. Black participants witnessed significantly higher race/ethnicity homophily compared with white and Latino peers. Extrapolating from these models, black individuals were more likely to be in a connected component with an HIV-positive individual and closer to HIV-positive individuals. However, white individuals were more likely to be in large connected components.

Conclusions:

These findings suggest that high racial homophily combined with existing disparities in HIV help perpetuate the spread of HIV among black YMSM. Nonetheless, additional work is required to understand these disparities given that homophily alone cannot sustain them indefinitely.

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