Often in public health, sexual relationships between Black gay, bisexual, and other sexual minority men (SMM) are framed as sources of risk and disease, especially in terms of HIV transmission. However, Black queer activists have long known that cultivating loving relationships between Black gay men is a way to build community, and can be a source of strength and resilience in the face racial discrimination. In response, researchers from Columbia’s Spatial Epidemiology Lab conducted a study to measure how sexual relationships between Black SMM can function as positive and preventive responses to racial discrimination, and associated psychological effects like depression symptoms.
The study involved 312 cisgender Black SMMs from the U.S. Deep South, in Jackson, Mississippi and Atlanta, Georgia. They were surveyed the assess levels of Black sexual exclusivity, sexual racial discrimination (whether they had been rejected by a potential partner because of their race), general daily discrimination experiences, and depressive symptoms.
Results of the study showed that men who experienced more racial discrimination were more likely to have exclusively Black sex partners. This could be a self-preservation mechanism, avoiding the daily discrimination that comes with navigating White social spaces.
Additionally (and perhaps intuitively), Black sexual exclusivity was associated with experiencing less sexual racial discrimination — perhaps by avoiding white sexual partners.
This work suggests that Black sexual exclusivity could help prevent depressive symptoms, by protecting Black SMM from sexual racial discrimination in addition to fostering love, closeness, and pleasure.
1Joseph Beam, “Caring for Each Other,” Black/Out, Summer 1986
Reference: English D, Hickson DA, Callander D, Goodman MS, Duncan DT. Racial Discrimination, Sexual Partner Race/Ethnicity, and Depressive Symptoms Among Black Sexual Minority Men. Arch Sex Behav. 2020 Mar 28. doi: 10.1007/s10508-020-01647-5.