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Gay and bi men are having more sex during the pandemic, despite COVID risk

Gay and bi men are having more sex during the pandemic, despite COVID risk

  • New survey found gay and bi men are having more sex with more people.
Three men in a bed.

Gay and bi men in the US had an average of 2.3 more sexual partners at the height of the first wave of the COVID pandemic.

Meanwhile the men reported sharp rises in their levels of binge drinking and drug use.

That’s according to a study by the Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities, University of Michigan in the USA. The authors published the study in the AIDS and Behavior journal.

They found only half the men recognized that you could get coronavirus through having sex. But 64% didn’t think they needed to reduce the number of sexual partners.

In fact, most men recognized that kissing is the highest risk for passing on COVID-19 and knew anal sex is comparatively safer.

However, while semen itself can’t pass on coronavirus, all sex involves being close to another individual – making it risky in the midst of the pandemic.

Interestingly, sexual health clinics in the UK initially estimated that fewer men were having casual hook-ups at the start of the pandemic.

But the new results from the US are taking from the same time period – February to April this year.

And they reveal a link between reports of LGBT+ people having poorer mental health during the pandemic and increases in sex.

The authors noted: ‘Both increased sexual activity and substance use may be coping strategies for the stress of living in lockdown.’

‘Common sense has hit rock bottom’

Moreover they noted:

‘Men who reported that their substance use had increased during lockdown were significantly more likely to report increases in number of sex partners, anal sex partners and unprotected sex partners, but there was no significant associations with reporting decreases in substance use.

‘These increases in substance and alcohol use may reflect more opportunities for use (while confined to the home and not in a workplace settings) and may also reflect an increase in negative coping behaviors in response to high levels of stress and uncertainty during the epidemic.’

However sex writer Michael Alvear, who has analyzed the study, also noted some men were in denial about the risks.

He noted that while 94% recognized you could pass on the virus through kissing, half believed you couldn’t pass it on through anal sex.

He concluded: ‘If half the gay men in this study were any stupider we’d have to water them once a week.

‘Our collective common sense has hit rock bottom…and then found a trap door.’

In fact, some public health experts have even recommended ‘glory hole’ sex during the pandemic to minimize risk. However, there is no suggestion that the men in the study were using that kind of approach.

Meanwhile the authors noted some of the men engaged in another kind of denial. They believed ‘that COVID-19 exists elsewhere and happens to other people’.

Some men turned to sex work

And while Alvear cites the men’s ‘stupidity’ as reason for their behavior, the study suggests they are intelligent. In fact, it notes that most of the men in the study were ‘highly educated’ – perhaps skewing the figures.

But aside of loneliness, opportunity, drug and alcohol use, it found other reasons why men may have more sex during the pandemic.

The study’s authors found that 11.8% of the men had suffered food insecurity. Meanwhile 1.4% reported having transactional sex – sex for money – for the first time in their lives. And 4.1% experienced homelessness.

As such, the authors believe the economic as well as the mental health impact of the pandemic are driving risky behavior.

Small sample

It is still too early to say if the figures in the study represent all gay, bi and other men who have sex with men around the world.

Indeed, there are reasons to believe the study may not be entirely accurate. The researchers only recruited 518 men, aged 18 or over, via ads on Grindr, Facebook and Instagram.

That’s a relatively small sample size and those using Grindr at that time may well have been more likely to be having casual sex than other men. Meanwhile, men who were having sex may have been more interested in the study than those who weren’t.

Despite those concerns, it is hard to disagree with the authors’ conclusions that services should consider the ‘mental health needs of those living on lockdown’ as well as continuing to deliver HIV services during the pandemic.