Increasingly, studies show that characteristics of the urban environment influence a wide variety of health behaviors and disease outcomes, yet few studies have focused on the sexual risk behaviors of men who have sex with men (MSM). This focus is important as many gay men reside in or move to urban areas, and sexual risk behaviors and associated outcomes have increased among some urban MSM in recent years. As interventions aimed at changing individual-level risk behaviors have shown mainly short-term effects, consideration of broader environmental influences is needed. Previous efforts to assess the influence of environmental characteristics on sexual behaviors and related health outcomes among the general population have generally applied three theories as explanatory models: physical disorder, social disorganization and social norms theories. In these models, the intervening mechanisms specified to link environmental characteristics to individual-level outcomes include stress, collective efficacy, and social influence processes, respectively. Whether these models can be empirically supported in generating inferences about the sexual behavior of urban MSM is underdeveloped. Conceptualizing sexual risk among MSM to include social and physical environmental characteristics provides a basis for generating novel and holistic disease prevention and health promotion interventions
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