Gay and bisexual men in Australia reported having much less casual sex with other men during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to research from the Kirby Institute.
The study, surveying 940 gay and bi men, found almost 95 per cent recognised sexual contact, particularly with casual partners and in group sex, was a COVID-19 risk.
Researchers found a 12-fold decrease in the number of partners respondents were having sex with. Sexual contacts in all partnership types – except monogamous relationships – plunged 84 per cent during the month of April, the study found.
“The results from our study show that an overwhelming majority of gay and bisexual men have adapted their behaviour and are adhering to physical distancing guidelines,” lead author Dr Mohamed A Hammoud said.
“Gay and bisexual men have adjusted their prevention strategies throughout the HIV epidemic to protect themselves and each other.
“Our community has a long history of creating innovative strategies to reduce risk. [We’re] seeing this continue with this new health challenge.”
Dr Hammoud thanked all of the 940 participants for responding and sharing their stories.
“[The responses were often] accompanied by raw and moving detail about how COVID-19 has impacted their lives,” he said.
“Despite the often negative impacts on individuals, we must recognise their investment in the health of themselves and their peers.”
Drop in casual sex may mean less STI diagnoses
Medical journal JAIDS published the Kirby Institute’s new study on Friday.
Researchers called on participants in the Institute’s long-running Flux Study. That survey routinely polls thousands of Australian gay men on their sexual behaviours and also drug use.
The team analysed the 940 gay and bi men’s responses to COVID-19 surveys. The researchers are also looking for fluctuations in HIV and STI diagnoses.
Associate Professor Garrett Prestage said as a result of the dramatic reduction in sexual contact, there’s also likely to be “a reduction in new HIV and STI diagnoses in the short term.”
“Trends in these diagnoses are likely to fluctuate significantly in response to changes in physical distancing restrictions,” the senior author on the study said.
The researchers said future work is needed to determine policy responses and interventions as people return to a “new normal” following easing restrictions.
They’re also exploring the social and mental health impacts of COVID-19 on gay and bisexual men.
“Future policy should meet the needs of gay and bisexual men as we move forward with COVID-19 being a risk in our communities,” Dr Hammoud said.
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