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London’s Gay sex venues (backrooms and saunas): an HIV prevention research & development project

Duration: June 1997 - April 1998

This research was funded by a consortium of inner London Health Authorities (the Inner London HIV Health Commissioners' Group) in response to concerns about the growing numbers of Gay sex venues in central London.

The study investigated the role of saunas and pubs and clubs with 'backrooms', where sex occurred on the premises, in the potential transmission of HIV among Gay men. As well as a detailed study of HIV risk behaviour, it included research into the social and legal factors influencing the operation of Gay sex venues and made recommendations for HIV prevention interventions.

The study used a range of methods. In addition to a review of the HIV, public health and legal literature regarding sex-on-premises venues, face-to-face, semi-structured interviews were conducted with a sample of stakeholders (including 17 venue proprietors and representatives of local authorities etc) and a sample of 20 backroom and saunas users. In addition, 75 hours of participant observation was undertaken at a range of backrooms and saunas in order to determine the structure of social and sexual interaction.

Finally, questions regarding use of, and sexual behaviour in, a range of public sex venues were included in our London Pride questionnaire for the annual Gay Men's Sex Survey in 1997 (n=1,800). This data enabled us to determine the relative risk behaviour of men in a range of public sex settings and allowed s direct comparison between the sexual risk behaviour of Gay sex venue users and other Gay men. A second questionnaire was distributed to users of sex venues and saunas. This was used to examine the sexual behaviour and patterns of use of such venues (N=194).

Results were written up in a research report called The boys in the backroom: an investigation of London's public sex venues (1998) and in two Journal articles called Anonymous sex among homosexually active men: implications for HIV prevention (Venereology 2000) and Tales from the backroom: anonymous sex and HIV risk in London's commercial Gay sex venues (Venereology 2000).

Tagged under: All gay & bisexual men