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Conversations with friends are a crucial source of information about sexuality for young gay men, and a key way that sexual health norms are shared during emerging adulthood.
However, friends can only provide this support if they are able to talk openly about sexuality. We explored this issue through qualitative interviews with an ethnically diverse sample of young gay men and their best friends. Gay male friends sometimes spoke about unprotected sex in judgmental ways e. In some cases, this language could be used playfully, while in others it had the effect of shaming a friend and obstructing further communication about sexual risk. Female friends were rarely openly judgmental, but often felt uncomfortable talking about gay male sexuality, which could render this topic taboo.
Sexual communication was facilitated most effectively when friends encouraged it through humor or supportive questioning. Drawing on these findings, we show how judgmentalism and discomfort may generate sexual scripts with contradictory norms, and potentially obstruct support from friends around sexual exploration during a period of life when it may be most developmentally important. For many young adults, such conversations with peers provide a supportive influence in preventing sexual risk Guzman et al.
However, this support can only occur if it is not obstructed by barriers to open communication, such as discomfort, judgmental attitudes, or a lack of receptivity to dialogue. In this study, we examined barriers and facilitators of sexual communication, factors that either obstruct or ease the conversations that young gay men and their male and female best friends have about sex.
We sought to understand how these factors functioned, affected the communication of sexual norms, and reflected subtle forms of heterosexism and homophobia that can impinge on even their closest relationships. As one young man told us about his best friend, Ingrid,. Are you being protected? These young men and their friends also go far beyond simply monitoring condom use in their efforts to help each other avoid HIV infection. They help each other evaluate sexual risk, provide reassurance in difficult situations, and share excitement and advice about new sexual experiences.