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In the age of hookup apps like Grindr and the rise of the post-gay identity, it can be a challenge for organizations trying to figure out what’s the best way to get the word out about sexual health.

A common assumption is that gay and bisexual men who seek sex online are less involved in LGBT communities and are less likely to practice safe sex.

However, the results of a study by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS revealed some contrary information.

The study, published on December 16 in the journal Sexual Health and conducted with researchers from the BC-CfE, the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, and the University of Victoria, involved 774 gay, bisexual, and men who have sex with men (MSM) in Metro Vancouver.

Researchers sought to understand what relationship exists between seeking sex online, community connections, and sexual behaviour.

The most common forms of community involvement were reading gay news (75 percent) and attending gay bars or clubs (73 percent). Over half of the men either watched (45 percent) or participated in (11 percent) a Pride parade.

The study found that, contrary to stereotypes, online sex-seeking men were more likely to spend more social time with other gay and bisexual men.

However, these men also experienced less emotional connection to a general LGBT community identity.

B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS associate researcher Nathan Lachowsky 

While this may seem contradictory, BC-CfE associate researcher Nathan Lachowsky explained to the Georgia Straight by phone from Victoria (where he is an assistant professor at the University of Victoria) that there is a “difference between identifying with something versus spending time doing something”.

He said that they found that guys who tended to use apps ascribed less importance to collective queer identity. While in the past, he said, there may have been more involvement in becoming part of a larger group or movement, but that things have shifted towards more personalized networks.

“It’s more the fact that these guys tend to operate more with their friends…and that particular social network for them might be more important than the broader gay community,” he said. “I think the key message really is that guys connecting online and in person are both really important, and it’s not just one or the other anymore.”

In fact, Lachowsky, who is a gay male himself, said they were “impressed overall” with the diversity of ways that men were involved in queer communities.

“Regardless of the way in which we might individually identify and participate in the gay community, I think there still is quite an interest in what it means to be gay and what it’s like to be gay,” he opined.

Yet that lack of emotional connection to a large collective identity did not necessarily mean that these men cared less about taking sexual precautions.

While on the one hand, online sex-seekers were more than twice than likely to have condomless sex with someone whose HIV status was different than their own or whose HIV status they didn’t know, they employed a variety of strategies to reduce the risk involved beyond just condom usage.

Online sex-seekers were twice as likely to ask a partner about HIV status, twice as likely to use risk-reduction practices (including changing sexual positions), and were more likely to have been tested for HIV than those who did not go online to seek sex.

“What we found is that these guys who were using app websites to connect with other men did report a greater risk of passing HIV but they also, at same time, reported multiple strategies of ways to protect themselves and their partners from passing HIV,” he said. “That is not necessarily the story that has been told. The dominant story has been that guys online are riskier, full-stop, and part of this work was to really look at ‘Well, we need to look at that more holistically’, and what we were able to demonstrate is that, yes, these guys do report an absolute greater risk for passing HIV but they are more likely to use risk reduction.”

Ultimately, the study helps to dispel some misconceptions and helps to focus future research on how social networks can be used to spread information and develop health awareness strategies effectively.

“People’s personal networks are critical to the way in which we interact, and are influenced, and learn about things,” he said. “So if we want to help provide HIV prevention resources or education, we need to be really thinking about the way people are connected to each other, and where they spend their time, and what they are emotionally connected to.”

For any gay, bisexual, or MSM individuals in Metro Vancouver who may be interested in participating in an upcoming study in February, Lachowsky said updates will be posted at their website, MomentumStudy.ca.

The upcoming study will be part of a national project called Engage, which is conducting studies in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver to compare similarities and differences between cities.

Author: Craig Takeuchi

Source: http://www.straight.com/life/854556/gay-sexual-health-study-challenges-misconceptions-about-online-sex-seekers