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Recreation, Fitness & Wellness, Student Life

USF professor gives the lowdown on meanings, dangers of being on the “down-low”

Tampa — For some like USF junior Sean Drees, the true root of the common phrase “the down-low” has been kept on the down-low itself.

“Everyone knows what it means,” Drees said. “It’s just what you say when you don’t want people finding something. It basically means, ‘Keep this between us.’”

The phrase actually originated from a subculture of men who identify themselves as heterosexuals yet lead secret double-lives, sometimes entering into marriage while continuing homosexual sex-acts unbeknownst to their partners. Men who engage in this behavior are said to be on “the down-low.”

According to a study by John Barnshaw, a sociologist at the University of South Florida, the practice of “down-low” homosexuality is significantly higher within the African-American community.

“The homosexual identity is highly stigmatized in black culture,” Barnshaw said. “The fear of ostracism, coupled with habitual MSM (men who have sex with men) behavior stemming from incarcertion, leads many black men to hide their homosexuality.”

In his study, Barnshaw also emphasizes the risks posed to unknowing women as a result of their partner’s “down-low” homosexual acts. He said men on the “down-low” are often in relationships with women who don’t believe they are at risk for STD’s such as HIV. Consequently, they are much less likely to use protective measures during intercourse.

“People claim up and down that their partner could never possibly be gay,” Barnshaw said. ” But it’s necessary to get tested.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), MSM represent only 2 percent of the population, yet accounted for more than half of all HIV infections in the U.S. in 2009.

As of 2010, Florida had 90,909 people living with HIV — the second highest state population behind New York. There were also 23.7 new cases diagnosed per 100,000 people in the state, with 85 percent of those cases being diagnosed in major metropolitan areas such as Tampa.


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