BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Health  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
Medical notes
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Gay men 'take more sexual risks'
Gay men
Is the gay community complacent about HIV?
Gay men are having more unsafe sex despite the continuing threat of HIV, according to research.

A study published in the British Medical Journal is the first to report an increase in unsafe sex among gay men in England since the start of the HIV epidemic 20 years ago.

Researchers from the Department of Sexually Transmitted Diseases at the Royal Free and University College Hospital Medical School, London, suggest that more gay men are taking risks because new treatments for HIV have reduced concern about infection.


Promoting condom use is likely to be much more difficult than in the 1980s

Andrew Grulich, National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, Sydney

Over a period of three years, more than 6,500 homosexual men - aged 15 to 78 years - responded to a questionnaire about their sexual behaviour.

The survey shows a significant increase in the reporting of unprotected anal intercourse, particularly among men under the age of 25.

The chance of having unprotected intercourse with partners whose HIV status was unknown also increased over the three-year period.

However, the study did reveal that most gay men still use condoms for anal sex most of the time.

The researchers, led by Dr Julie Dodds, say the findings highlight the potential for the continuing spread of HIV infection.

They conclude that more effective health promotion strategies are needed.

In an accompanying editorial, Andrew Grulich, from the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology, Sydney, Australia, says a similar trend has been reported in Australia and the US.

He says this could be down to optimism over new treatments with the gay community.

"In a situation where the immediate, overwhelming threat of death from Aids is no longer present, promoting condom use is likely to be much more difficult than in the 1980s.

"However, if anti-retroviral therapy becomes less effective because of viral resistance, then the rate of infection may well increase and current levels of unsafe sexual behaviour may lead to an increased incidence of HIV infection."

Since the mid-1990s, new combination anti-retroviral therapies have led to a major decline in the rate of death and serious illness from Aids.

'No complacency'

However, there is concern that the HIV virus will adapt so that the drugs lose their effectiveness.


What we are seeing is men using much more sophisticated strategies to avoid or reduce HIV transmission

Will Nutland, Terrence Higgins Trust
Will Nutland, a health promotion expert with the HIV charity The Terrence Higgins Trust, said the results of the study were echoed in research by the charity soon to be published.

This will show an increase of 7% in the number of gay men having unprotected anal sex from 1998 to 1999.

It will also show that 45% of those who took part in the survey had unprotected anal sex at least once during the year.

However, Mr Nutland said the research also showed that more gay men were minimising the risk of HIV transmission by ensuring they only had sex with men of the same HIV status.

He said: "I don't buy into the complacency theory. What we are seeing is men using much more sophisticated strategies to avoid or reduce HIV transmission.

"In an ideal world we could distinctly reduce HIV transmission by all men using a condom every time they have sex, but that is not a realistic health promotion strategy."

Mr Nutland said the Terrence Higgins Trust was planning a new campaign to improve HIV awareness, and to help gay men to minimise the risk of infection.

Gavin Hart, a spokesman for the National Aids Trust, said: "We are concerned if unsafe sex is increasing among gay men as they are still the group most at risk of infection in the UK."

Mr Hart said more research was needed to clarify exactly why unsafe sex was on the increase. He also called for better targeting of HIV health promotion campaigns at vulnerable groups such as gay men.

See also:

24 Mar 00 | Health
02 Dec 99 | Health
17 Mar 99 | Health
23 Nov 99 | Health
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes