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The Body Covers: The XIII International AIDS Conference
Does Optimism about HIV Treatment Lead to Riskier Sexual Behavior?

July 13, 2000

  • HIV optimism does not explain the increase in high risk behavior among London gay men in the year 2000 (LpPpB105)
    Authored by J. Elford, G. Bolding, M. Maguire, L. Sherr

Almost 5,000 gay men in London, Sydney, Melbourne and Vancouver were surveyed about their level of optimism about HIV in light of new treatment advances and the association of optimism with sexual risk behavior between November 1999 and May 2000. 605 of those surveyed were HIV-positive; the rest were HIV-negative or never tested. Examples of the statements participants responded to were: "New HIV treatments will take the worry out of sex" and "People with undetectable viral load do not need to worry about infecting others." They were then asked about recent unprotected anal intercourse with a casual partner.

The overall score on the five-item optimism scale was low and the average responses fell between "disagree" and "strongly disagree". However, the relationship between the average optimism score and HIV status varied among the cities. HIV-positive men in Vancouver were significantly more optimistic than HIV-negative men, although this was not associated with high-risk behavior. Optimism was associated with high-risk behavior among HIV-negative men in London and among all men surveyed in Australia regardless of their HIV status.

This study highlights the heterogeneity of gay men's responses in different countries to new HIV treatments, and underscores the need to continue to deliver appropriate safe sex messages to all gay men regardless of their HIV infection status.

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