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Almost two-thirds of gay men barebacked the last time they had sex, survey finds

By Ross Semple

Over half of gay men surveyed by GMFA admitted to not using a condom the last time they had anal sex.

The gay men’s health charity 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.

65% of respondents said that they didn’t use condoms the last time they had anal sex, with 11% of these saying that they didn’t think about or worry about the risks when engaging in bareback sex. 8% of respondents said their last encounter was bareback but one or both participants were on PrEP, while 27% of total respondents said that they consider themselves to have a risky sex life.

“I rarely use condoms but I have the conversation,” said James, a 45-year-old from Edinburgh. Rudy, 35 from Oxford said that he feels at risk. “Since I have started ‘playing away’ from my relationship, I feel I am increasing my risk,” he said. “It’s usually with unplanned hook-ups, and we’re less likely to discuss our sexual health at a club or in a park.”

The research is published in GMFA’s magazine FS, with the organisation calling for improved education around safer sex strategies for gay men.

“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.”

Howley goes on to explain some of the ways in which gay and bi men can have safer sex: “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.”

Click here to read the latest issue of FS

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