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Frequently Asked Questions About The Down Low

Men on the Down Low or DL

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What is the "Down Low" or "DL"?

Men who discreetly have sex with other men while in sexual relationships with women are said to be on the "down low" (or "dl" for short). Often these men do not consider themselves gay or bisexual and their female partners are not aware that they have sex with other men, thus the term "down low" or "in hiding".

Where did the down low phenomenon come from?

The issue of men having sex with other men, unbeknownst to their wives and girlfriends, captured wide media attention in the early 2000's after several articles on the subject were reported in major newspapers like the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. These reports explored the perceived link between the spread of HIV to heterosexual African-American women by their down low partners.

Men on the down low were further exposed in 2004 when J.L. King, author of On the Down Low appeared on Oprah to talk about his life on the down low. Since, numerous books, articles, TV specials and movies have explored the phenomenon and continue to link the down low with African-American men and HIV.

Are down low men the cause of the spread of HIV among heterosexual women?

According to HIV/AIDS Guide Mark Cichocki, "For years, experts have attributed the high rate of HIV among African American women to a behavior that has been called 'being on the down low'. The basic contention is that African American men have sex with other men then come home to their wives or girlfriends and infect them with HIV, never having told them that they have unprotected sex with other men."

However, Dr. Chandra L. Ford of Columbia University in New York City urges caution when assuming down low men are the primary cause of high African-American HIV infection rates:

"Part of what has happened as a result of that initial burst of stories reporting the ‘down low’ is that those stories often tied the down low to high rates of HIV infection among African-American women, which was not supported by epidemiological data." Ford added, "There were a lot of assumptions, there were a lot of leaps of faith that led to that."

Is the down low only an African-American issue?

In her article titled "Down low" myth distorts HIV research, prevention, author Anne Harding talks about Dr. Ford's research and the misconceptions that the down low is an exclusive African-American issue.

Harding writes, "The practice of straight men secretly having sex with men is seen across all ethnic groups. While black men and women have higher rates of HIV infection than other ethnic groups, they also report fewer risk behaviors, suggesting researchers should look elsewhere to understand the disparity. For example, having a bacterial sexually transmitted infection can increase the risk of both transmitting and contracting HIV, and it is possible such infections may be more common among blacks than whites due to poorer access to health care. The view of black sexuality as deviant and diseased has deep roots, Ford noted, pointing to the way the public and the medical community viewed syphilis in the early 20th century as a disease of the black community."

Are all closeted men on the down low?

Not all men in the closet are on the down low. However, most men on the down low are in the closet. Men on the down low are usually in heterosexual relationships while secretly engaging in sexual activity with other men.

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