A new survey of gay men in Australia suggests that more couples are now in open relationships than in monogamous ones.
The trend was featured in this year’s Melbourne Gay Community Periodic Survey, conducted by the University of NSW, which questioned 2886 gay and same-sex attracted men about sex, relationships and sexual health.
Thirty-one percent of the involved men surveyed in Melbourne are in monogamous relationships while 32% are now in open relationships. This reflects a gradual increase over time towards open relationships, said the researchers.
The rest of the men surveyed either only had casual sex partners (23%) or were not having sex with any male partners (15%).
Mobile apps were the most popular means of meeting other men, with 48% of those surveyed saying they found partners this way. This was followed by websites and gay venues or events.
One of the most significant results of the survey was the dramatic increase in men using PrEP; from 1.4% in 2015 to 5.6% in 2016.
The researchers noted that this appeared to tie in with a shift towards condomless anal sex with casual partners (from 38.9% in 2015 to 42.6% in 2016).
Taken on a daily basis, PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) has been shown to be extremely effective in stopping HIV infection.
There was also a large increase over time in the proportion of HIV-positive men on treatment and with an undetectable viral load, up from 65.1% in 2008 to 95.2% in 2016. Having an undetectable viral load makes HIV transmission during sex very unlikely.
“This is really the first time we’ve been able to see the way PrEP is protecting our community,” commented Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) CEO Simon Ruth.
“The results around PrEP and undetectable viral load show us what we’ve known for a long time now, that gay men in [the state of] Victoria are smart, aware, and willing to engage with new and often complex information about sexual health and HIV prevention,” he said.
The researchers also welcomed results that showed that more men were heeding calls to have more frequent HIV tests.
“Testing every three months is particularly important if you’re having sex with a lot of different guys, and these look like the kind of men who are testing more frequently,” said VAC’s Director of Health Promotion, Policy and Communications Colin Batrouney.
The Melbourne gay community periodic surveys have been running since 1998 and aim to give not just a snapshot of gay male sexual behaviours but also a picture of how trends change over time.