HIV-positive people who say religion is an important part of their lives are less likely to have many sexual partners and are less likely to engage in high risk sexual behavior than other people with the AIDS virus, according to a new study issued by the RAND Corporation.
Because of this, people with HIV who have stronger religious believes are less likely to spread the aids virus, according to the study.
“Moral beliefs may indicate an underlying altruism and a desire to make sure no one else is infected with HIV,” behavioral scientist David Kanouse said in a release. “Promoting these feelings could then be used as a component of HIV prevention programs.”
Frank H. Galvan, lead author of the study and professor with the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, says the study suggest that there is a role for religion in the fight to stop the spread of HIV.
“They have these core belief systems that do have a positive impact on the lives of people who are HIV-positive and who are sexually active,” said Galvan. “Religiosity is an untapped resource in the whole struggle against HIV and AIDS, and should be looked at more thoroughly.”
The study measured religious beliefs by asking people to report how important religion was in their lives and whether they identified with a particular religious group, whether they preferred being with people of the same religion, and how often they attended religious services.
Kanouse said that the study did not identify what specific component of religiosity made a difference in a person’s sexual activity, but he did say that two factors, moral beliefes and membership in a faith community, may play important roles.
“These are some significant findings about the role of religiosity in the lives of people who are HIV-positive,” said Galvan. “The next step is to find out how can we use this information in a way that can help lower the rate of spreading HIV to others.”
The researchers studied a nationally representative sample of 1,421 people receiving medical care for HIV. 932 of them reported recent sexual activity.
Catholics were the least likely to report unprotected sex. Catholics were also less likely to report high-risk sexual activity than other Christians, and reported fewer partners than non-Christians.
The Rand Health study was conducted with a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The report appears in the February issue of the Journal of Sex Research.