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by Brett Josef Grubisic
Nearly half of young gay and bisexual men are having unprotected sex, especially with their regular partners, a Vancouver study has found. Statistics gathered from more than 300 men who have so far participated in the Vanguard Project indicate that while safer sex is more common than it was a decade ago, it may not be employed consistently enough to stem an ongoing HIV epidemic.
The community-based and directed project, launched in May 1995 and designed to focus on the incidence of HIV infection of men who have sex with men between the ages of 18 and 30, bases its findings on in-depth questionnaires completed by its Lower Mainland respondents.
Information gathered from those who have in the past year had sex with a regular male partner (defined as men you have sex with at least once a month) show while almost 50 per cent report they always have anal sex with a condom, the remaining half reported at least a single incident of unprotected insertive or receptive anal sex within the previous year.
Of those with casual partners (defined as men you have sex with less than once a month), approximately one-quarter of respondents reported they engaged in at least one act of anal sex without condoms in the previous year.
The Vanguard team has compared their new data with that of same aged men taken from the Vancouver Lymphadenopathy-AIDS Study (VLAS) 10 years ago. Dr. Steffanie Strathdee, manager of both studies, says, "In general, the level of unprotected sex has decreased over the last decade, but not enough to stem what could be an ongoing epidemic among young gay men in Vancouver."
The Vanguard team finding will be presented at the XI International Conference on AIDS. The paper reports that while VLAS participants were more likely to engage in high-risk sexual activities with greater numbers of partners, a similar proportion of Vanguard participants were still engaging in unprotected sex. In its conclusion the paper states, "...it is disturbing that a higher proportion of Vanguard Project participants reported unprotected receptive anal sex with a casual partner, since this is among the riskiest of sexual behaviours with respect to HIV transmission."
Martindale says reasons for the high percentage of those reporting unprotected sex are manifold, ranging from issues of self-esteem and lack of support to substance use. He says, "It may be easier to explain why men use condoms than to explain why they don't. There are of course good reasons to protect yourself, but unfortunately not everyone shares those reasons.
"It's hard for young people to plan for the future if they're more focused on immediate needs."
Martindale attests to the accuracy of the numbers, claiming, "since this study is completely confidential, participants may be more honest with us about their high-risk behaviours than when they talk with friends and health care providers."
For information about the Vanguard Project
call 688-WEST ext 2116. Steve Martindale can be reached at (604)687-2469
or on e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, contact:
Vanguard Project Coordinator
608 - 1081 Burrard Street
Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6Z 1Y6