What constitutes safer sex? Sex with a condom? Sex with PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis)? Oral sex? At GAYCON 2014, an annual conference on gay and bisexual men's health in Scotland, researcher Nicola Boydell presented the results of a study that sought to discern young gay men's attitudes toward safer sex, Aidsmap reports.
The good news: Young gay men see safer sex as more than just condom use. The bad news? Many consider condomless sex within the context of a relationship as being relatively safe, even when they knew nothing about their partner's HIV testing history.
Yet, the majority of HIV transmissions among gay men happen within the context of a relationship, according to data from a 2009 U.S. study. When speaking of these relationships, men cite trust as the number one reason to take off the condom.
"[If] it was just like a casual thing, I would always use condoms and then if we're going out like, at the start for like a couple of months depending on the person, we would use a condom and then after that if like we trusted each other, if I trusted him, we wouldn't." (Eamon, 24)
Learning what safer sex means to these men revealed great variation in the participants' definitions. When asked, two participants responded:
"Safer sex generally speaking is using condoms and making sure it's used properly and stuff and getting checked up regularly, very regularly." (Eddie, 21)
"[Safer sex] is making sure you've got condoms, you have them, they're in date, you have the proper lubrication for it and make sure you have the, all different sizes and non-latex and make sure you get yourself tested and you've got the support there to talk to somebody if you feel uncomfortable or have somebody go with you." (Noel, 23)
The bottom line, according to Boydell, is that just assuming a sexual partner's HIV status, even in a monogamous relationship just doesn't cut it. Communication between gay partners is of the utmost importance, and even more important is a better understanding of how to communicate around sex and HIV in hopes of preventing HIV transmission. Boydell also suggests a few possible risk reduction strategies for couples -- among them, couples-based HIV testing, in order to assist with disclosure of HIV status and safer sex discussions.
Mathew Rodriguez is the community editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Mathew on Twitter: @mathewrodriguez.