Wednesday 5 March 2014

Are Young Gay Men really so different?

On Thursday 20th February AFAO hosted an after hours session at the Social Research Conference on HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Related Diseases. Chaired by AFAO’s Sally Cameron, the session provided a venue for the consideration of the specific HIV health promotion needs of young gay men.

Recent reports on newly acquired HIV infection among men who have sex with men have found the largest increases in HIV diagnoses in men under 25, prompting the question of whether young gay men have different sexual practices or attitudes to testing that may require unique forms of HIV health promotion strategies. This symposium brought together a group of researchers who presented findings on young gay men’s sex practices, risk taking, and broader relationship issues in order to facilitate discussion about the future direction of HIV health promotions for young gay men.

A central topic in the symposium was that the practices of young gay men and their older counterparts are, for the most part, quite similar. Both Martin Holt (pictured left) from the Centre for Social Research in Health and Ben Bavinton (pictured right) from the Kirby Institute reported on the behaviours of the two groups as having more in common than not, and that differences between the two should not be overstated or essentialised. Martin noted that while there was an increase in unprotected anal intercourse (UAI) with casual partners among gay men under 25 in 2010, the rate of UAI over time was stable and comparable to that of older gay men.

One issue that was discussed as a possible point of difference was the way in which young gay men look for partners. Martin stated that young gay men were less likely to use saunas, sex on premises venues (SOPV), and beats to meet partners, but were more likely to use mobile dating/hook-up apps. Kath Albury (pictured right) from the University of New South Wales’ School of Arts and Media expanded on the use of mobile technology by same sex attracted young people, confirming that mobile technology had overtaken internet use as it was felt to be more intimate and easier to use privately than a computer which may be shared, including with family members. I thought these findings highlighted the need for potential health initiatives to focus on mobile apps as a means of engagement, especially in order to reach young gay men who may not be involved in other gay community websites or go to venues like bars or clubs.

Philipe Adam from the Centre for Social Research in Health underscored the need for different forms of HIV promotion as he conveyed findings that almost a quarter (23%) of gay men under 26 reported to have not been exposed to campaigns promoting HIV testing. This study also found that young gay men reported slightly lower levels of HIV/STI knowledge and were less likely to test routinely for HIV than older gay men. Philipe advocated for a fresh start in approaches to health promotion for a generation of gay men who don’t have the same context of awareness or experiences of HIV.

Jeffrey Grierson from the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society argued that shifts in sexual attitudes and behaviours are not only informed by changes within the gay community but reflective of broader social norms in regards to sex, relationships and dating. Considering these wider social implications will assist in understanding changing practices and help demystify the notion of “young gay men” as a solitary or inimitable group.   

Martin’s data was from the Gay Community Periodic Surveys conducted by the Kirby Institute across six states and territories (NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the ACT).

Philippe’s data was drawn from the HowMuch do you Care? Study by the National Centre in HIV Social Research at the University of New South Wales.

Kath’s findings were based on the report ‘Young people and sexting in Australia: ethics, representation and the law’.

Ben’s study was drawn from the Pleasure and Sexual Health Study (PASH).

Jeffrey's presentation was based on the study 'Monogamy as an HIV and STIPrevention Strategy for Gay Men'.

Luke Edgell is an intern at AFAO with the Policy & Communications team. He is a student at the University of Sydney in the Master of Development course. 

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