Young gay and bisexual men who moved from homophobic hometowns to New York City were likely to seek connections or support in the easiest ways available in a big city, says John Pachankis. "Unfortunately, this might include things like excessive alcohol or drug use and sex without condoms with casual partners." (Credit: Dahan Remy/Unsplash)

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Move to the big city can be risky for young gay men

Young gay and bisexual men who leave their hometowns and move to cities in search of greater social and sexual freedom may take risks to make new friends, say researchers.

The finding is based on results from one of the most comprehensive studies to date of the migration of young gay and bisexual men and the physical and emotional health implications.

Researchers found that when these men moved to New York City from hometowns where homophobia and discrimination were present, they experienced mental health issues, substance abuse, and engaged in HIV-risk behavior. Higher incomes upon moving were associated with lower HIV and mental health risks, but with more alcohol use.

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“We know that young gay and bisexual men currently represent the highest-risk group for new HIV infections,” says John Pachankis, associate professor at the Yale University School of Public Health.

Because these men might be moving from homophobic hometowns where they experienced stress related to discrimination or not fitting in, they might be particularly likely to seek connections or support in the easiest ways available in a big city. “Unfortunately, this might include things like excessive alcohol or drug use and sex without condoms with casual partners.”

There has been surprisingly little research exploring the health challenges of young gay and bisexual men who move to cities. While only migrants to New York City were studied, the findings could be relevant to other large major urban areas in the United States. Findings were largely similar whether participants were international migrants or moving from other places in the US.

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The men studied had, within the past few months since their arrival in the city, engaged in frequent behaviors that placed them at higher risk for HIV, suggesting that one of the ways migrants seek connections in their new home is by forming fleeting, but high-risk sexual contacts.

To  conduct the study, published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine, researchers used popular mobile apps that gay and bisexual men use for meeting other men to recruit 273 men, ages 18 to 29, who had come to New York in the past year.

The long-term goal of the research is to identify ways to support young migrants both during and after their move to ensure that they maintain good health despite the potential temptations of big city gay life.

“The results of our study suggest that providing avenues for healthy positive socializing outside traditional high-risk scenes is a promising direction for such an intervention,” Pachankis says.

Other researchers from Yale and from Hunter College contributed to the study.

Source: Jennifer Kaylin for Yale University

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