CHEST Study Looks at HIV Risks at Gay Sex Parties

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Thursday Dec 12, 2013

Men who attend sex parties are at a greater risk of HIV and STI transmission, found a recent survey at the Hunter College's Center for HIV Educational Studies & Training (CHEST). Dr. Christian Grov and his team used an online survey titled "Characteristics of men who have sex with men (MSM) who attend sex parties: results from a national online sample in the USA" to reach more than two thousand MSM nationwide, in 49 of the 50 states.

According to the data collected, about 45 percent of the men surveyed had attended a sex party within the past year, 23 percent had been to a sex party more than a year ago and 31 percent had never been to a sex party in their lifetime. The men were divided into these three groups for further analysis of their survey responses.

CHEST's researchers found that men who attended sex parties in the last year were at greater risk of HIV and STI transmission than the other groups of men. For instance, men who had attended a sex party in the last year were significantly more likely to have engaged in unprotected anal intercourse in the last 90 days. Men who had attended sex parties in the last year also reported a higher number of recent male sex partners, and higher numbers of anal sex encounters than the other men surveyed.

"One caveat is that we do not know the exact behaviors men engaged in at sex parties, but our data do tell us that men who attend sex parties are more likely to engage in behaviors that can contribute to the onward transmission of HIV and STIs," said Grov.

Grov told EDGE that the NYC Dept. of Health did not identify sex parties as a potential transmission source from the meningitis scare this past summer. But he warned that sex parties offer individuals an opportunity to be sexually intimate with multiple individuals over the course of a very short period of time, increasing the risk of other infections.

"I imagine things like the flu and other easily transmissible pathogenies (e.g., common cold) could easily be passed if introduced into this environment," said Grov. "Were someone with meningitis to attend a sex party, the results could be devastating."

He encouraged all MSM who are sexually active to get vaccinated for Hep A, Hep B, the flu and meningitis, especially those who attend sex parties.

"I would encourage these men to routinely test for HIV (if HIV-negative or they do not know their status) and get checked for other sexually transmitted infections," said Grov, noting the success this summer of distributing meningitis vaccines at sex parties in New York, as reported in an earlier EDGE article.

Promisingly, the survey found that men who had attended sex parties were interested in having safer sex materials and prevention services available at parties. For example, 94 percent of sex party attendees would like lube given out at parties, 81 percent said the same about condoms, 52 percent were interested in having free HIV testing available and 43 percent would like free STI testing provided.

This indicates that the interest is there, said Grov, but the delivery needs to be carefully considered. Despite the highly controversial nature of this area of research, Grov identified this as a valuable opportunity for departments of health and community based organizations to partner with sex party promoters to administer free HIV testing at their events or to supply promoters with condoms and lubricant.

"In essence, our data suggest that not only would men who attend sex parties be appropriate candidates for targeted outreach and prevention, they are open to receiving such services at the sex parties," said Grov, who added that such findings would hold true in other urban areas like Chicago, Atlanta, Miami and San Francisco.

But while MSM may welcome safer sex supplies, only about 1 in 10 men who attend sex parties were interested in having medical providers or peer outreach workers at a sex party, leading Grov to caution that not all services are desirable.

"We do believe that doing outreach and prevention with men who attend sex parties might be an effective use of resources. However, organizations could be well served to partner with sex party promoters, and have the party promoters deliver the prevention services, instead of sending in outreach staff," he Grov.

And if you met your mate at a sex party, you are not alone. CHEST researchers are presently conducting research where they ask men to report the various places they have met sex partners. A number of them have been reporting sex parties.

"It is our intention to investigate how men’s behavior changes when at sex parties versus other venues," said Grov. "The data are still being collected, thus it is too soon to offer findings."

CHEST conducts research on social and psychological factors associated with HIV transmission and the wellbeing of those living with HIV, with a particular emphasis on the promotion of sexual health. They share these findings with AIDS service organizations.

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Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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