The down low is a term used to refer to men who are in relationships with women, but who also have sex with men (MSM). This deeply problematic term started in the black community, and is a reflection of problematic stereotypes of black MSM.
However, this type of behavior is not unique to African Americans. Men across all races and cultures have been known to deny their attraction to other men.
In a September 2007 interview, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said “there are no gay people in Iran.” What he really meant was that, in Iran, gay people are not allowed to live their lives without fear of persecution and death.
There are many groups in the United States who would like to be able to say the same thing — that there are no gay men here. They would like to deny the presence of homosexuality in their community.
Even though most of them would not support violence, they are more than willing to encourage prayer, therapy, or simple denial. The problem though is that, whether you believe in nature or nurture, gay people, like everyone else, are still going to want love and sex.
Whenever a person is in a relationship where one partner believes the relationship is monogamous, and the other partner is having sex outside the relationship, the faithful partner is at increased risk. People who are in what they perceive to be committed relationships are often less reliable about practicing safer sex.
Where a person might have been responsible about using condoms with causal partners, they may feel they can relax once in a stable relationship. If, however, their other partner is still sexually active outside the relationship, they may actually have become more at risk by “settling down.”
This isn’t just a problem for women who are involved with men on the down low. It’s an issue for anyone in a relationship where one partner is being dishonest about their level of fidelity.
Studies have found that, in general, black MSM are far more likely than other MSM to have female partners. However, black women are less likely than women of other races to say that their male partners are bisexual.
Most scientists believe that, once again, this has to do with the cultural hazards of disclosing a non-heterosexual sexual identity for men from cultures that place a high value on traditional masculine roles. Similar results, although less extreme, are also seen for Hispanic MSM.
There has been a move away from the term “down low” towards men who have sex with men and women (MSMW). Others prefer to use the term “bisexual.” While MSMW is certainly an accurate term, these men may or may not identify as bisexual.