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On the Down Low

Downlow (or "On the Downlow" or "DL") may refer to any activity or relationship kept discreet or private.  Generally, it may refer to any kind of infidelity or covert affair.  Specifically, it may refer to keeping an act or action hidden or any piece of information a secret ("I'll tell you, but I want you to keep it on the down low"). 


Downlow is sexual slang for men who are straight (heterosexual), and identify as straight, but have sex with men (often a friend) on the side without disclosing the activity to their female partner.


Some men in heterosexual relationships have sex with other men without the knowledge of their wives or girlfriends. Often these men do not consider themselves gay or bisexual.


The term has most often been associated with African American men. Although the term originated in the African American community, the behaviors associated with the term are not new and not specific to black men who have sex with men.


Often, downlow behavior occurs in settings and cultures in which being gay is socially unacceptable or morally taboo and fiercely prohibited.  While the practice of straight men secretly having sex with men is seen across all ethnic groups, it appears to be more prominent in communities in which traditional values are strictly applied and rigid rules foster intolerance. 



FAQs About the Downlow
CDC: Facts About Men on the Downlow

Bud Sex Between Straight Rural Men

Is Your Man on the Downlow?
Black Star News: My Downlow Husband
JL King: On the Downlow
Black State: Downlow and Debatable
San Francisco Chronicle: Gay Stigma Keeps Men on the Downlow
Flow 4 The World: What is the Downlow
Wikipedia: Men Who Have Sex With Men
UNAIDS: Men Who Have Sex With Men
Web MD: Straight Men Having Gay Sex
GLBTQ Encyclopedia: Men Who Have Sex With Men
R Kelly Video: Downlow, Nobody Has to Know



We can keep it on the down low...   Nobody has to know...
Secret lovers is what you wanna be... What is a man to do in a situation like this?
I feel there is something that I don't wanna miss...


-R Kelly Lyrics


What is MSM?

Men who have sex with men (abbreviated as MSM, also known as males who have sex with males) are male persons who engage in sexual activity with members of the same sex, regardless of how they identify themselves; many men choose not to accept social identities of gay or bisexual. The term was created in the 1990s by epidemiologists in order to study the spread of disease among men who have sex with men, regardless of identity.


MSM is often used in medical literature and social research to describe such men as a group for research studies without considering issues of self-identification.


Down Low Memoir

Author JL King has written three books about the downlow phenomenon, most recently, "
On the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of Straight Black Men Who Sleep with Men."  


Joe Moe, a critic for Amazon, submitted the following review of King's latest book:  The closer a secret is kept, the more powerful the impact once it is finally revealed. Such is the case with author and activist J.L. King's intriguing look at the lives and lifestyles of black men who sleep with other men but do not consider themselves to be gay. These men live "on the down low," the "DL" for short, and their sexual activities have gained significant notice as the rate of HIV/AIDS infection in black women has skyrocketed, with the vast majority of cases coming from heterosexual sex.



King is a veteran of the DL himself and his book serves partly as a social and psychological survey of the other men he has surveyed and partly as highly candid memoir. King was well regarded in his community, popular at his church, successful in his career, and married to a woman who had no idea that his secret life existed. But when she caught him in a lie and with another man, the marriage collapsed and King's long and painful path to self-awareness began. King cites the negative image many socially conservative black men have of homosexuality as an obstacle to those men being honest with their partners and themselves about who they are.


Among the more intriguing elements of On the Down Low are the peculiar approaches men on the DL have to the sexual act, seeking a strictly physical sexual relationship with their secret male partners while remaining in more traditional arrangements with women. Whether this discrepancy is a product of scrupulously guarded secrecy and shame or the natural preference of an understudied sexual identity is one of the numerous questions raised by this book. Though the infection statistics make the DL a huge public health issue, King is neither a sociologist nor a medical professional. And while a more clinical look at this issue would be welcome, King accomplished what he set out to do: provide light and insight into a world that so many have worked so hard to keep in the shadows.



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Association for Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Issues in Counseling of Alabama