Safer-Sex Programs for Gay Men May ‘Backfire,’ Study Says
Some programs designed to encourage less risky sexual behavior among gay men may "backfire," a new study published in the British Medical Journal says (BBC News, 6/14). Researchers at a London sexual health clinic gave a 20-minute one-on-one counseling session to 343 gay men who had an "acute" STD or who reported having had unprotected anal sex in the past year, and invited 172 to attend a one-day safer-sex educational workshop. During the 12-month follow-up period, 27% of the men who attended the workshop reported having had unprotected anal sex in the past month, compared to 32% of men who did not attend. However, 31% of the intervention group contracted a new STD, whereas only 21% of the control group contracted a new STD. Considering only the men who asked for an STD exam, and not those who did not request an exam, the percentage of the intervention group diagnosed with a new infection was 58%, versus 43% of the control group. Researchers hypothesized that the participants in the workshop may have gained "a misplaced sense of confidence in their ability to negotiate high-risk sexual situations," an outcome that is "clearly a cause for concern." They concluded, "Even carefully formulated behavioral interventions should not be assumed to bring benefit" (Imrie et al., British Medical Journal, 6/16). Study author Dr. John Imrie of the Royal Free and University College Medical School said of the "unexpected" results, "We have to look at the possibility that [safer-sex campaigns] don't have an effect or that they may potentially do harm," as they could "encourag[e] people to indulge in other forms of sex that might also spread STDs." He also noted that some campaigns "don't have the same kind of impact they had in the past," and as a result "we need to redouble our efforts around prevention and to make sure that things we are doing are going to be effective." A National AIDS Trust spokesperson added that programs that work for some men will not work for others, adding that sometimes a social context is more effective for promoting safer-sex practices, whereas a clinical setting has "limited success" (BBC News, 6/14).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.