Sex, Love, and Health Checks: Gay and Bisexual Men lead the charge in prevention

A recent study conducted by Samuel Andrews, a master’s student in population health at Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland, sheds light on the proactive approach that some gay and bisexual men in New Zealand are taking to manage HIV transmission risks, despite engaging in behaviors that are considered high-risk for HIV transmission. This groundbreaking research highlights a strong link between sexual adventurousness, drug use, and a commitment to HIV prevention.

Understanding the Study

The study, adapted from the Flux study, an Australian online research project developed by the Kirby Institute and carried out between 2018 and 2019, aimed to examine the relationships between group sex, drug use, and HIV prevention strategies among gay and bisexual men in New Zealand.

A total of 739 participants were included in the study, with almost a third (29.5%) reporting recent engagement in group sex, and a significant majority (59.5%) admitting to using illegal drugs. Shockingly, around 35.7% combined both behaviours to enhance their sexual experiences, which has been termed “sexualised drug use.”

Proactive HIV Prevention

The study revealed that those engaging in sexualised drug use were among the most proactive in managing their HIV transmission risks. Of the participants who reported such behaviours, a significant 84% had undergone recent sexual health checks, and 76% had been tested for HIV. Many of them were also taking Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a biomedical HIV prevention method.

One of the key findings of this research was the high level of engagement with HIV prevention methods among gay and bisexual men. This suggests that HIV prevention efforts have been successful in New Zealand and are gaining the most traction among individuals who engage in behaviors that present the highest risk of HIV transmission. These findings are encouraging for public health officials and organizations working to combat the spread of HIV within the country.

Crucial Factors for Progress

Notably, people living with HIV who participated in the study were actively seeking and receiving treatment, and most had achieved an undetectable viral load. These factors are instrumental in the fight against HIV, as individuals with an undetectable viral load are highly unlikely to transmit the virus to their sexual partners. Achieving progress toward the elimination of HIV within New Zealand depends on a combination of proactive prevention methods and ensuring that those living with HIV receive adequate care and support.

The research conducted by Samuel Andrews and his team not only provides valuable insights into the intersection of sexual behaviours, drug use, and HIV prevention strategies but also underscores the success of New Zealand’s efforts to reduce HIV transmission. The study encourages further exploration of how to support and expand these prevention efforts and strengthen the fight against HIV in the country.

As the findings from this research become more widely disseminated, it is hoped that they will inspire discussions and initiatives to ensure that the progress made in HIV prevention is sustained and enhanced, ultimately leading to a future where HIV transmission becomes a rare occurrence in New Zealand.