This letter is a response to “The Trouble with ‘MSM’ and ‘WSW’: Erasure of the Sexual-Minority Person in Public Health Discourse,” a 2005 article by Rebecca Young and Ilan Meyer also published in the American Journal of Public Health. The letter and article discuss the overuse of the phrase “Men who have sex with men (MSM)” in the context of HIV epidemiology. While the term appears to have originated to describe contexts in which sexual identity and sexual behavior remain at odds, the authors believe that usage has spread into broader categories where the term includes groups where members’ sexual identity and sexual behavior are consistent. The concern is that this generalization, which is focused only on behavior, could potentially impair the long-term goals to improve sexual health outcomes, and bring about misconceptions from those outside the MSM population. The authors provide a cultural lens, arguing that in South Asia the definition of “male” is highly connected to sexual behavior; insertive versus receptive. To replace MSM, the authors advocate for a vocabulary that, while accessible to health and advocacy professional, can also transcend cultural boundaries and meet the needs of the populations being served.
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