Black gay and bisexual men are far less likely to practice safe sex than their white counterparts, according to a nationwide government-funded study of sexual behavior by the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention.

The study found that almost half of gay black men continue to engage in anal intercourse without a condom, even though that is the sexual act most likely to transmit acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

That figure from the study is more than 2 1/2 times higher than that of the adult gay population as a whole.

Leaders of the task force said the study demonstrates that the traditional methods of promoting "safer sex," which have led many white gays to change their behavior dramatically, have failed to reach the black community.

They said the study also shed light on why the brunt of the AIDS epidemic has been shifting toward minority groups over the past few years. "The statistics are shocking," said Reggie Williams, executive director of the task force. But in light of other survey data, he said, they were not surprising.

"Less than half the men surveyed have attended a safer sex workshop, slightly more than half have attended an AIDS education program," Williams said.

"Yet almost 80 percent of the men believe education is key to safer sex practices. The data is clear: There is an urgent need for more culturally specific education, risk reduction training and ongoing support," he said.

The statistics were based on interviews with more than 900 sexually active black gays and bisexuals from 23 cities throughout the United States, most of whom were not in monogamous relationships and who had an average of 2.6 different sexual partners in the month before the survey was taken.

Most gays and bisexuals interviewed did claim to have changed their behavior in response the the rise of AIDS.

For example, 34 percent said they now restrict themselves to one sex partner and 53 percent reduced their number of partners but not to just one.

Only 53.5 percent said they always or nearly always engaged in practices often called "safe sex." A third of the men have sex with men and women, but less than 20 percent of those always or almost always use a condom for vaginal sex. And more than 20 percent of those surveyed said they would be likely to engage in unsafe sex even if they were infected with the AIDS virus or had AIDS.

A recent survey of gay sexual habits by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, by contrast, found that among the gay population as a whole, which is predominantly white, the level of anal sex without condoms between casual partners is extremely low.

"We're hopeful that we can use this information to refine and continue to focus our education programs," Williams said.

"The model out there for {sexual education} is this generic model, this broad-brush attempt, which is based on how things have worked in other communities. It has not been and is not effective for our target {black} population. We need a different hook. We need to have a different way of reaching people," Williams said.