Understanding the dynamics of sexual risks for HIV among men who have sex with men has been one of the ongoing challenges of HIV prevention. While the majority of HIV-prevention interventions target individual behaviour and decision making, multiple studies point to the importance of social context in shaping risk behaviour. Analysis of qualitative data from a study of men who have sex with men, drug use and sex found that sexual encounters were made up multiple contextual and interpersonal elements, which interacted to shape sexual practices and risk reduction strategies. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 60 racially diverse men who have sex with men in NYC, recruited from multiple venues. The majority of respondents were gay-identified and half were 40 or older. Respondents described risk assessment and risk-reduction processes that develop throughout a sexual encounter, embedded in ongoing negotiations of sexual practices. Strategies of risk assessment and reduction draw on probability-based approaches to HIV prevention, presenting a challenge to health education.
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