Black gay couples and white gay couples practice safe sex differently, according to new data presented at the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C.

Despite statistics showing that black men who have sex with men have higher rates of HIV infection, black gay couples were more likely to use condoms than their white counterparts, regardless of HIV status.

“We found that black and white gay men process the information they receive about HIV in different ways, and for black men using condoms is the default choice,” said San Francisco State researcher Chad Campbell. “The black gay men we surveyed were aware of the high rates of HIV among their demographic and were taking steps to ensure they don’t become another statistic.”

The data comes from the “You and Me” study at San Francisco State University, which investigates the relationship dynamics between male partners in black, white and interracial relationships.

Other findings from the study:

  • Black gay couples had unspoken agreements that condom use was non-negotiable.
  • Most of the white couples did not use condoms, after discussing the risks and benefits.
  • Interracial couples with black and white partners were split between using condoms and not.
  • Decisions on condom use among couples with different HIV statuses were based on the health of the HIV-positive partner, including the amount of detectable virus in the blood and whether the person is taking HIV medication.
  • When those who regularly use condoms had an occasional lapse in condom use, the white and interracial couples often continued having sex without condoms, while black couples would get tested for HIV and revert to condom use.

“This suggests that being in a relationship isn’t a risk factor for black men,” says Colleen Hoff, head of the “You and Me” study and director of San Francisco State’s Center for Research and Education on Gender and Sexuality. “We need to keep searching for other factors that may explain the high incidence of HIV among this demographic,” she says.

Dr. Tyeese Gaines is a physician-journalist with over 10 years of print and broadcast experience, now serving as health editor for theGrio.com. Dr. Ty is also a practicing emergency medicine physician in New Jersey. Follow her on twitter at @doctorty.