Problems with sex among gay and bisexual men with diagnosed HIV in the United Kingdom

Bourne, Adam; Hickson, Ford; Keogh, Peter; Reid, David and Weatherburn, Peter (2012). Problems with sex among gay and bisexual men with diagnosed HIV in the United Kingdom. BMC Public Health, 12(1), article no. 916.



A significant research literature exists that details the sexual health and sexual behaviour of gay and bisexual men who have diagnosed HIV. However, much of this research has focussed on HIV transmission risk behaviours among this group, rather than seeking to understand their sexual health and sexual well-being more broadly. There have been growing calls for interventions to support people with diagnosed HIV to achieve health and well-being, including sexual health and well-being. A detailed understanding of the problems people in this group face, and how they might be overcome, is required to facilitate such interventions.

One thousand two hundred and seventeen gay and bisexual men with diagnosed HIV were recruited by convenience sampling through charitable AIDS service organisations, genitourinary medicine clinics and local authority agencies to complete a survey of their health and social care needs. Respondents were asked to report any problems they had with regards to sex during the 12 months prior to survey completion. They were also asked to describe what support might help them to overcome any problems they experienced.

Overall, 70.5% of the gay and bisexual men with diagnosed HIV completing the survey reported one or more problems with sex within the previous 12 months. Most commonly reported problems include loss of libido (44.0%, n=540), poor self-image or low self confidence (43.9%, n=534), worries about passing HIV to potential sexual partners (37.3%, n=454), and fears of rejection from sexual partners (34.7%, n=422). Responses varied according to age, time since diagnosis, and whether or not the respondent was currently taking anti-retroviral therapy. Qualitative analysis of data relating to what support might help men overcome problems with sex indicate a need for therapeutic support to increase self esteem and confidence, clarity on criminalisation of HIV transmission, the tackling of HIV related stigma and help to achieve a higher quality (as opposed to quantity) of sex.

The findings indicate a need for the maintenance and expansion of services to meet the significant needs of people with diagnosed HIV, especially as these intersect with their ability to negotiate sex that is satisfying.

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