Only half (52.1%) of gay and bisexual men (GBM) engaging in condomless anal intercourse with casual partners had tested for HIV in the past year, according to new research presented at the New Zealand Sexual Health Society conference in Taupo.
Overall three quarters (75.4%) of GBM had ever tested for HIV, with 42% of all GBM studied testing in the past year.
“While it’s encouraging that gay and bisexual men taking the most risks are also testing the most, it’s concerning that testing in this group isn’t universal,” says Dr Peter Saxton, lead author and Director of the Gay Men’s Sexual Health research group at the University of Auckland.
The findings come from a diverse sample of 3140 participants in the Gay Auckland Periodic Sex Survey (GAPSS) and Gay Men’s online Sex Survey (GOSS) conducted in New Zealand in 2014.
“Gay and bisexual men hooking up should be aware that their partner’s HIV negative test status could be outdated. Some men will have had condomless anal sex since their last negative result and now have undiagnosed HIV. That information is seldom communicated openly to a new sexual partner or on a dating app,” says Saxton.
“Condoms take the guesswork out of sex, rather than having to rely on full and accurate disclosure from casual partners or from ‘friends with benefits,” Saxton adds.
Overall 5% of all respondents had been diagnosed with HIV, or 1.4% of those testing in the last 12 months. Sexual health clinics were the most popular place for GBM to have an HIV test, replacing general practitioners (GPs) which had been the most common.
Other factors predicting recent HIV testing were having a tertiary degree, having more than 20 sexual partners in the last six months and being exposed more frequently to safe sex promotion. Conversely, HIV testing rates were lower among GBM recruited from Internet dating sites, who identified as bisexual, or who didn’t have casual sex.
In addition to recent HIV testing, the study examined those who had never tested for HIV. “Over 30% of participants recruited from Internet dating sites had never tested for HIV and this was also true for gay men under 30 (40.1% of whom had never tested), those who were Maori or Pacific, or who identified as bisexual,” says Saxton. “Understandably the younger the age profile of the group, the less likely they were to have ever tested for HIV.”
Saxton says that “HIV testing needs to be normalised, acceptable and accessible to all gay and bisexual who have had condomless anal intercourse. Too many gay and bisexual men are being diagnosed too late in the course of their infection to maximise the benefits of anti-HIV treatments for their own health and for HIV prevention.”
In July this year, the START study reported that early rather than delayed treatment reduced the likelihood of AIDS and serious non-AIDS-related events. Also in July, the HPTN 052 study reported a 93% reduction in HIV transmission from mainly heterosexual HIV positive individuals on treatment to their partner.
The study is a collaboration between the University of Auckland, the University of Otago and the New Zealand AIDS Foundation with funding from the Ministry of Health.