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Behaviourally bisexual men in the UK: identifying needs for HIV prevention

Duration: November 1994 - January 1995

This study examined the sexual practices of men who had sex with both men and women and comments on HIV and other sexual health risks. Commissioned in 1994 as part of a programme of work on HIV prevention among Gay and Bisexual men by the Health Education Authority it was designed with the assumption that the population of behaviourally bisexual men to be studied would not necessarily have a common sexual identity and were likely to attach priority to protecting their confidentiality.

Respondents were recruited via a advertisements placed in the personal or sexual contact sections of a limited range of local and national newspapers. These ads assumed heterosexuality and invited men to ring anonymously a free telephone interview line if they also had sex with men. We estimated that 20,000 men telephoned during an eight week interview period. 745 men got through, qualified for the study (had sex with both male and female partners in the previous five years) and took part.

Respondents were questioned about their use of contact advertisements; first sexual experiences; numbers of sexual partners; sale and purchase of sex; regular partnerships; disclosure of sexual practices to regular partners; venues used for meeting sexual partners; detailed accounts of most recent sexual experiences with new male and female sexual partners; perceived impact of HIV and AIDS on sexual practices; knowledge concerning HIV and AIDS; HIV antibody testing and contact with the HIV epidemic as well as demographic information.

The study confirmed the existence of a large group of men who have sex with both men and women and found they were strikingly different, both in terms of demographic characteristics and sexual practice, from men who had taken part in previous studies of Gay and /or Bisexual men. Since the closure of the Health Education Authority the full report of this study which they published has been discontinued. Hence, some major findings are outlined below:

  • Less than half identified as bisexual.
  • They were very sexually active with both female and male partners.
  • Penetrative sex was the norm (especially with female partners).
  • Condom use was common for penetrative sex (especially anal) but not universal.
  • A third had disclosed their (homo)sexual activities to regular female partners.
  • Most had disclosed their (hetero)sexual activities to regular male partners.
  • A low self reported prevalence of HIV (<1%) suggested that they did not overlap to any great extent with existing core groups for HIV incidence (such as gay men).
  • Basic knowledge of HIV was good and many had adopted patterns of sexual behaviour that minimised the likelihood of acquiring HIV but there remained substantial potential for sexually transmitted infection including HIV.

The study was reported in two journal articles. The first was entitled Survey shows unprotected sex is a common behaviour in bisexual men (British Medical Journal 1995) ; and the second was Sexual HIV risk behaviour among men who have sex with both men and women (AIDS Care 1998).

Key contact: David Reid

Tagged under: All gay & bisexual men