What is going on in gay men’s lives when they acquire HIV?

Each year, more than half of HIV diagnoses in the UK are in gay and bisexual men. A new study paints a picture of the complex reasons, including chemsex, use of dating apps, childhood trauma and stressful life events, that are associated with gay men acquiring the virus. Because of the success of HIV medication in treating HIV and extending life expectancy, changing ideas about how serious it is to have HIV was also seen to be a factor.

Many respondents in the study described difficult experiences during childhood, including dysfunctional relationships with parents and bullying at school, which had long-lasting impacts on their mental health. A few men grew up in environments where gay men were highly stigmatised, which could result in low self-esteem. Some respondents linked such experiences with subsequent drug use. One man said:

“I mean it probably was the perfect storm you know, they [drugs] got me at a time…mid-forties when I wasn’t that secure, there were a few issues, I was looking for fun…it was an escape and it seemed at the time that it was…enjoyable.”

The study was carried out by Annabelle Gourlay of University College London. It has been published in the medical journal BMJ Open and a detailed analysis of the findings is available on NAM aidsmap’s website, www.aidsmap.com

The researchers interviewed 21 gay men who had recently been diagnosed with HIV in London or Brighton. Most of the men thought that a combination of factors contributed to risk behaviours and HIV infection. Another interviewee said:

“The sex and the drugs and the apps all intertwined simultaneously and I can’t really say which one led to the other.”

Matthew Hodson, Executive Director of NAM aidsmap commented, “All too often discussion of HIV within the gay communities is reduced to gay men being somehow ‘irresponsible’. The reality is that gay men’s lives are complex and the reasons that gay men may engage in sex that carries a risk of acquiring HIV are complex too. The homophobia which underpins the idea that gay men are irresponsible, in itself, seems to have played a role in many men not finding themselves able to avoid HIV infection.” Read more via AIDSmaps