MSM: men who have sex with men Homosexuality

Monday 20 March 2017.

MSM: men who sex with men Homosexuality

From a historical anthropological perspective homosexuality was institutionalized and exhibited in two patterns; age structured and gendered role structured. Homosexuality in both of these two patterns had specific cultural and social roles. In the discussion of homosexuality, age structured homosexuality as seen in Greek pederasty and the New Guinea tribal society are the most common examples. While in gendered role structure homosexuality the example you will find is the North America Indian berdache.

Outside of Western culture, homosexual behaviour seemed to fall into one of two patterns. Adult men, who also married women, had sexual relations with males, who were in some cultures were adolescent boys, and who, in others, were adult men who had permanently adopted a transvestite role situated somewhere between the other two genders. But the active adult male partner in these acts maintained his dominant gender status; adolescent boys left behind their passivity at manhood; and only the transvestite male undertook a new permanent gender role as a result of his sexual conduct. (Trumbach, Gender and the Homosexual Role in Modern Western Culture: The 18th and 19th Centuries Compared, in Homosexuality, Which Homosexuality by Dennis Altman, p.151)

The phenomenon of the berdache in native American cultures has attracted considerable attention from anthropologists, and has sometimes been claimed to be an analogue of the Western ’homosexual’. The berdache is a man in woman’s clothing, carrying out women’s occupations, and having sex with men. Such men are found in many native American societies, but the berdache seems to be defined primarily in terms of female occupation and clothing, and only secondarily by sexual object choice, whereas in the West ’homosexuality’ is defined by the latter. Thus the term ’berdache’ seems more akin to the English term ’transvestite’. (Horrocks, An Introduction to the Study of Sexuality, p. 148)

These two styles of institutionalized homosexuality, the New Guinea and the North American, (which are the two styles most often encountered in tribal societies) could not be further apart in their primary meaning, and indeed as far as I am able to determine, they never coexist. The meaning of each is also significantly different from the culturally recognized but not instituted homosexuality of the modern West. (Whitehead, The bow and the burden strap: A New Look at Institutionalized Homosexuality in Native North America, p. 83 in Sexual Meanings The Cultural Construction of Gender and Sexuality editors Sherry B. Ortner and Harriet Whitehead.)

To back-translate Sambia sexual culture is to reexamine the basic principles of late modern sexuality in the West. To understand Sambia sexual subjectivities, for instance we have to deconstruct the meanings of homosexuality as a Western category. While it is true that Sambia practice homoerotic insemination, they lack the category homosexual and have no homosexuals to fill the category if they did! That is why I have backed away from the use of ritual homosexuality as an inclusive category (Herdt 1993) in favor of the more particular but accurate term boy inseminating rites. (Herdt, Sambia Sexual Culture Essays, from the Field, p. 17)

It is very interesting to note the change in terms used and meanings given by those advocating for homosexuality from their early writings to more current writings. Herdt above expresses this in the quote. There is less emphasis on it being a type homosexuality. No longer is there the concept of institutional homosexuality. Hedt changed from using ritual homosexuality to boy inseminating rites. The term berdache has been replaced by the use of two-spirited person.
But seeing MSM as a modern type of homosexuality it is the homosexual physical activity that is important. Also, it is the homosexuality emphasis that is seen in the other modern type of homosexuality Political Identity: Gay and Lesbian. So, in the four types of homosexuality now in two older types, age-structured and transgenderal the homosexuality has been de-emphasized and in the modern types, Political Identity: Gay and Lesbian and MSM it is the homosexual physical activity and behavior that is important.

One difficulty is that not all homosexually inclined people want to identify their minority status - or even see themselves as homosexual. Sexologists, at least since Kinsey, have pointed out that there is no necessary connection between sexual behaviour and sexual identity. (Weeks, Jefffrey. Questions of Identity, p. 43 in The Cultural Construction of Sexuality by Pat Caplan)

Sexual identification is a strange thing. There are some people who identify as gay and participate in the gay community but do not experience or wish for homosexual activity. And there are homosexually active people who do not identify as gay. (Weeks, Jefffrey. Questions of Identity, p. 43 in The Cultural Construction of Sexuality by Pat Caplan.)

MSM: men who have sex with men

MSM is a term used in medical literature and social research to identity a specific category of men as a group for research studies and for tracking sexually transmitted diseases in epidemiology studies. The term was first created in the 1990s by epidemiologist in the context of the HIV/AIDS crisis, but the coining of the initialism by Glick et al. in 1994 signaled the crystallization of a new concept.
MSM is commonly known as men who have sex with men, but sometimes it denotes males who have sex with males. This category of men/males is male persons who engage in sexual activity with members of the same sex. They are grouped together regardless of how they self-identify in the common gay, homosexual or bisexual categories. What sets this group, MSM, apart is they are identified by their behavior of sexual activity.
Gay, straight, homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual are identity-based categories. MSM is a behavior category. This distinction was needed as a result of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Those men who self-identify as gay or bisexual are not always sexually active with other men, whereas those men who self-identify as heterosexual/straight may be engaging in sexual activity with other men. HIV/AIDS results as a consequence of one’s behavior.

The term men who have sex with men (MSM) is used in CDC surveillance systems. It indicates a behavior that transmits HIV infection, not how individuals self-identify in terms of their sexuality. ( See References at the bottom of the page.

MSM are not limited to small, self-identified, and visible sub-populations. MSM and gay refer to different things: behaviors and social identities. MSM refers to sexual activities between men, regardless of how they identify, whereas gay can include those activities but is more broadly seen as a cultural identity. Homosexuality refers to sexual/romantic attraction between members of the same sex and may or may not include romantic relationships. Gay is a social identity and is generally the preferred social term, whereas homosexual is used in formal contexts, though the terms are not entirely interchangeable. Men who are non-heterosexual or questioning may identify with all, none, a combination of these, or one of the newer terms indicating a similar sexual, romantic, and cultural identity like bi-curious. (

There are consequences to homosexual behavior and activity. It cannot be denied, although one may try to downplay them. Sexually transmitted disease are direct consequences. Receptive anal intercourse is the highest risk behavior for acquiring HIV/AIDS.


( is the source for this information. Reading the web page may be difficult because sometimes they talk about two different things, HIV and AIDS. Or they may be discussing HIV/AIDS as a single thing. At the bottom of the web page is a section listed References. They are footnotes of definitions to explain information found on the web page. So reading below notice the the headings HIV Infections and HIV and AIDS Diagonasis. Adding to the confusion are the two different dates, first is 2010 and the second is 2013.
When they are discussing new HIV infections, it is for 2010, and it is those that are newly infected with the HIV virus. The year 2013 is used when discussing estimated HIV infection diagnoses and the estimated number of persons diagnosed with AIDS. The disease, AIDS, is the end result of an infection with the HIV virus.

Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) represent approximately 2% of the United States population, yet are the population most severely affected by HIV. In 2010, young gay and bisexual men (aged 13-24 years) accounted for 72% of new HIV infections among all persons aged 13 to 24, and 30% of new infections among all gay and bisexual men. (

New HIV Infections

In 2010, gay and bisexual men accounted for 63% of estimated new HIV infections in the United States and 78% of infections among all newly infected men. From 2008 to 2010, new HIV infections increased 22% among young (aged 13-24) gay and bisexual men and 12% among gay and bisexual men overall. (

HIV and AIDS Diagnoses

In 2013, in the United States, gay and bisexual men accounted for 81% (30,689) of the 37,887 estimated HIV diagnoses among all males aged 13 years and older and 65% of the 47,352 estimated diagnoses among all persons receiving an HIV diagnosis that year. In 2013, gay and bisexual men accounted for 55% of the estimated number of persons diagnosed with AIDS among all adults and adolescents in the United States. (


Altman, Dennis, Carole Vance, Martha Vicinus, Jeffrey Weeks and others. Homosexuality, Which Homosexuality? GMP Publishers. London, 1989.

Glick M, Muzyka BC, Salkin LM, Lurie D (May 1994). "Necrotizing ulcerative periodontitis: a marker for immune deterioration and a predictor for the diagnosis of AIDS". J. Periodontol. 65 (5): 393–7.

Herdt, Gilbert. Sambia Sexual Culture Essays from the Field. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago and London, 1999.

Horrocks, Roger. An Introduction to the Study of Sexuality. St. Martin’s Press, Inc. New York, 1997.

Ortner, Sherry, B. and Harriet Whitehead. Sexual Meanings The Sexual Construction of Gender and Sexuality. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, London, New York, New Rochelle, Melbourne and Sydney, 1981.

Caplan, Pat editor. The Cultural Construction of Sexuality. Tavistock Publications. London & New York, 1987.

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