Gay Sex Uncovered: GMFA calls for improved education around safer sex strategies for gay men

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FS magazine delves into the sex lives of gay men and takes an in-depth look at the kind of risks they are taking.

PrEP and successful HIV treatment has changed the landscape of what it means to have ‘risky’ sex, particularly when it comes to HIV. FS surveyed 523 gay and bi men and asked them about the last time they had sex, what type of sex it was, when they were last tested and what risky sex means to them.

We discovered:

  • 65% of respondents said that they didn’t use condoms the last time they had anal sex.
  • 32% of those respondents said it was bareback but they knew the other guy was HIV-negative
  • 14% of them said it was bareback but one or both were HIV-undetectable
  • 11% said it was bareback but didn’t think about or worry about the risk.
  • 8% said it was bareback but one or both were on PrEP.
  • 27% of total respondents consider themselves to have a risky sex life

“The results of the survey has shown that sex is complicated and there is no one size fits all safer sex strategy,” says Ian Howley, Chief Executive of GMFA. “First we need to define what is risky sex in this day and age.”

“Safer sex in 2017 is more complicated that it was twenty years ago when your only options were condoms or abstinence as a way to protect yourself from HIV and STIs. The advancement of treatment, the fact that gay men who are on HIV treatment and have an undetectable viral load so can’t pass on HIV, added to the increased number of gay men who are taking PrEP, means that gone are the days when sexual health education was just about telling people to use condoms. We now must do more to increase gay men’s knowledge about all the options open to them.”

“Of course condoms still play an important role in preventing other STIs and should still be a major part of a safer sex strategy, however, it’s not a one size fits all approach any more. We need to meet gay men where they are in their lives. We need to keep on pushing the message that there is more than one safer sex strategy. We need to increase people’s knowledge about PEP, PrEP and what HIV-undetectable actually means in the real world.”

Rudy, 35 from Oxford responded to the survey to talk about his sex life: “Since I have started ‘playing away’ from my relationship, I feel I am increasing my risk. It’s usually with unplanned hook-ups, and we’re less likely to discuss our sexual health at a club or in a park.”

James, 45 from Edinburgh admits that communication is helpful: “I rarely use condoms but I have the conversation.”

Richard, 38 from London also shows that information about undetectable viral load and PrEP is finally getting through: “My most recent sexual encounter was with a HIV-positive undetectable guy. It was good sex. I’m currently taking privately bought PrEP so I know I’m protected from HIV. Also, if someone knows their status they are far more likely to be checked regularly for other STIs at their clinic appointments.”

Ian Howley goes on to say: “We at GMFA recommend the following. If you are someone who is comfortable using condoms then keep on doing that. It’s the best strategy that helps prevent HIV and STIs. If you are someone who is HIV-negative and has condomless sex then we would recommend that you get yourself on PrEP. It won’t stop STIs but it’s been proven to stop people becoming HIV-positive. Also check out PEP. It can help if you’ve put yourself at risk.

“If you are living with HIV and undetectable then keep on taking your medication. HIV-positive men who are undetectable cannot pass on the virus to anyone. If you are living with HIV and are not undetectable yet then we suggest you still use condoms with HIV-negative men, unless they are on PrEP. And all sexually active men, whether HIV-negative or HIV-positive should have regular check-ups at a GUM clinic. We recommend once every six months or more often if you are having condomless sex. Gay men need to learn about the option open to them. It’s the only way we can finally stop HIV transmissions.”

Read “Gay Sex Uncovered

Read “STIs in a post-condoms world

Read “It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s SUPER-GONORRHOEA!

Read issue #161 in full:

https://www.gmfa.org.uk/Pages/Category/fs-161

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