Magazine article Science News

HIV Accelerates in 'Closeted' Homosexuals

Magazine article Science News

HIV Accelerates in 'Closeted' Homosexuals

Article excerpt

The cloak of secrecy that some men throw around their homosexuality does not suit their physical health once they contract the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a new study finds. In a 9-year study of gay men infected with HIV, those who reported striving to keep their sexual orientation hidden from the public developed AIDS and died markedly sooner than those who made no or few efforts to conceal their homosexuality.

"We don't know why this difference occurred," says study director Steve W. Cole, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. "We suspect that an inhibited personality style caused some of the men both to conceal their homosexuality and to suffer decreased immune function after HIV infection."

Men who took the most drastic steps to stay "in the closet" experienced serious losses of critical immune cells and received a diagnosis of AIDS from 1.5 to 2 years sooner than men who were relatively open about their sexual orientation. A similar disparity characterized the time between diagnosis and death from AIDS for closeted versus openly gay men, Cole and his colleagues contend in the May-June Psychosomatic Medicine.

The accelerated course of HIV infection in men who concealed their gay status did not result from differences in age, disease progression at the start of the study, ensuing medical treatment, sexual practices, alcohol and illicit drug use, cigarette smoking, exercise, sleep problems, anxiety, depression, or social support, Cole's group holds.

Participants consisted of 80 homosexual men contacted in the earliest stages of HIV infection and assessed every 6 months for 9 years. The volunteers, who were predominantly white and relatively affluent, identified themselves as "definitely in the closet, in the closet most of the time, half in and half out, out of the closet most of the time, or completely out of the closet. …

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