This article was published on March 23rd, 2016
A recent study of HIV-negative gay men, A view into the health of HIV-negative gay men in Vancouver, has found that gay men are utilizing condomless safer sex strategies and also need greater access to mental health support.
Participants in the study had a very sex positive attitude and sex was a central aspect of their life. Their reasons for enjoying sex included physical pleasure, emotional intimacy, allowing them to concentrate on other things, and as a reward for productivity. Stress was listed as both a reason for having sex (e.g., stress relief) and a reason for not having sex (e.g., too stressed to enjoy sex).
And while condoms were the still the central safer sex strategy used by gay men, they were also utilizing other strategies to prevent HIV. While they knew these other strategies did not completely eliminate the risk of acquiring HIV, they recognized that they did provide varying degrees of safety as well as allowed for greater sexual intimacy, spontaneity and pleasure. These same men were eager to learn more about strategies such as viral load sorting and pre-exposure prophylaxis. Unfortunately, one troublesome finding did arise – the hotness factor. It can be difficult to insist on using a condom if they find the guy hot. Equally, some stereotype attractive guys as promiscuous and therefore more likely to have an STI.
STI testing with a partner also came out as a way to stop using condoms. Couples were going together to get tested so that they could forego condom use in order to increase pleasure, intimacy, and spontaneity.
In addition to sexual health issues, gay men were found to have a strong need for mental health services and were having trouble accessing these. Some of the key barriers were: not knowing where to find help and/or concerns about the cost (53%), insufficient time due to busy schedules (32%), disinclination to address issues at hand (26%), embarrassment (18%), and concern about the ways these professionals would respond to their sexuality (18%). With higher rates of suicide, depression, and anxiety among gay men, this is a troubling finding.
And turning to your friends for support doesn’t seem to be an option for many gay men. These men were unable to talk to their friends about issues such as fidelity in a relationship, having an HIV-positive partner, or having an STI. In fact, when they did bring this up, some received negative reactions from their friends. Shaming and judgement seems to be as prevalent in the gay community as it is at a Baptist church service. Until gay men stop internalizing the homophobia they’ve been at the receiving end of and stop redirecting that at each other, it will be difficult for gay men to get the support they need to improve their mental health.