Only 1 In 3 Sexually Active Gay, Bisexual Teens Get Tested For HIV

Rates of HIV infection are growing among young men who have sex with men, but few know their status

Aug 26, 2015 at 6:41 PM ET

The HIV rate among young gay and bisexual men is on the rise—and yet fewer than one in three who are sexually active has been tested for the virus, according to a new study.

The Northwestern University study, published Wednesday in the Journal of Adolescent Health, surveyed 302 teen boys between the ages of 14 and 18 who identified as gay, bisexual or queer. Researchers found that only 30 percent of the sexually active participants—and 20 percent overall—had been tested for HIV. That rate is significantly lower than the testing rate found in previous research. A 2008 Centers for Disease Control study of men who have sex with men and who were between the ages of 18 and 19 found that 75 percent had been tested.

But this study does seem to jibe with past research finding that 60 percent of youth with HIV do not know that they are infected, meaning they are not receiving treatment and could unknowingly pass along the virus to partners.

The result of this latest research is alarming, especially when you consider that 1 in 4 people infected with HIV are youth between the ages of 13 and 24, according to the CDC. A governmental task force has recommended that teens as young as 15 get tested for HIV.

The teens in this study mainly avoided getting tested because they didn’t know where to get tested or because they were worried about being recognized while getting tested. Researchers suggested that text message alerts about nearby testing locations, as well as bringing the testing directly to teens, could help. “Providing in-school testing would normalize the process,” said Gregory Phillips II, one of the study’s authors. “If there is a constant presence of on-site testing at schools, testing would seem less stigmatized. It would also increase knowledge about the testing process and make it less scary.”