Adam Polaski

Gay Men in Serious Relationships Have More Unprotected Sex

Filed By Adam Polaski | June 03, 2011 8:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Brian Mustanski, HIV/AIDS, Northwestern University, relationships, safe sex, UPI

A new study claims that gay men in serious relationships are more likely than gay men who have casual sex to engage in behaviors that put them at risk for HIV transmission. PracticeSafeSex.jpgThe study, out of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, included 122 men ages 16-20 and was conducted over the course of two years. The findings were published in Health Psychology and indicate that programs designed to prevent HIV transmission should focus more on gay male couples.

Brian Mustanski, the lead author of the study, said that men in relationships are significantly less likely to get regularly tested for HIV and other STIs. They are also more likely to have unprotected sex with their relationship partner.

At, Mustanski urged gay men, even those in relationships, to get tested on a regular basis:

It isn't enough to ask your partner his HIV status. Instead, both people in a serious, monogamous couple relationship should go and receive at least two HIV tests before deciding to stop using condoms.

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This smells of "publish or parish". In my experience with HIV counseling and education, the relative risk of a long-term, monogamous couple, gay or straight is pretty low, low enough that counselors will assure someone who has had unprotected sex with their long-term, monogamous partner that they do not need to come in every 3 - 6 months regularly.

This is like saying that people on swim teams engage in more drowning-risk behavior than people who only swim recreationally.

Couples in long-term monogamous relationships are not risk-free, but their relative risk is reduced by being in a adhering to long-term monogamous relationship compared to individuals having casual sex, sex with multiple partners, or long-term couples in open relationships. There's always the risk that a partner could cheat, but then they wouldn't be monogamous.

I don't see much of a useful finding here besides investigating a question of sexual practices of monogamous same-sex couples. It could just be the spin of scientific journalism, but this seems alarmist. The fact that Mustanski participates int he story tells me that he's aware that the study is being portrayed in an alarmist way, even as he neuters the motivation behind that alarmism by saying that monogamous couples are able to stop using condoms in a responsible way (after two HIV tests each).

Eric Payne | June 3, 2011 4:15 PM

I know what you mean... the headline "Gay Men in Serious Relationships Have More Unprotected Sex" is about as surprising as a headline in, say, The Republic that says: "Married Women with Private Health Insurance Have Healthier 2 Year Olds".

The only issue I see with unprotected sex in a relationship is that it really does have to be exclusive. It only works if you are absolutely 100% certain that your partner (or partners, I said exclusive, not monogamous) are HIV free and not fucking those who aren't.

I've been looking at the articles about this Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine study in the Health Psychology site/publican and cannot find the actual study documents online. I notice none of the stories link to the documents.

The most thorough version of this story I've found is at:

However, it's still not clear to me from reading about this if the unprotected sex is solely between the two partners in the committed relationship or if open relationships or cheating is a factor. Also missing in the story is the average duration of the "serious relationships."

In any case, indeed boyfriends should at least get tested twice before they stop using condoms. However, every HIV testing place I ever went to when I was partnered would not let me and my ex test together in the same room due to the over-zealous confidentiality laws. Obviously an exemption should be made for consenting couples. Otherwise, you are taking your partner for their word. But people lie. Even in LTRs.

Lastly, it's no surprise HIV rates are growing among young gay men. They are not being taught gay/LGBT inclusive sex ed about safer sex. What's more, they see BB sex glorified in gay porn. Most gay porn blogs, sites like Xtube, and hook up sites like Adam 4 Adam all profit from content or ads glorifying BB sex.

I opine about this in my vlog Gay Glorifying Of Bareback Sex:

Gay sex does not cause or transmit HIV. To state that gay men in serious relationships have more unprotected sex and should become the focus of education/outreach efforts seems to imply that gay sex transmits HIV. It doesn't. Unprotected sex doesn't transmit HIV either. HIV is transmitted through an exchange of body fluids when the virus is present. Virus not present? No transmission. Somebody might let these researchers know.

Also, I don't think the ages of the subjects should be discarded. I'm going to get radical here, but 20 year olds and 50 year olds might have very different definitions of what constitutes a "serious relationship."

Eric Payne | June 3, 2011 4:11 PM

Oh, boy, Lonnie...

Of course, you're absolutely, 100% correct. If someone absolutely, positively, is not infected with the HIV retrovirus, they are absolutely, 100% excluded as being a possible infection route.

However... (and you knew there was a "however" coming)

There is no way to determine someone is absolutely, 100% uninfected with the HIV retrovirus. The retrovirus is only detectable after it seroconverts - at which time the host system begins to create antibodies to the HIV antivirus.

30 years ago, seroconversion took years to occur; over the last three decades, HIV (as a retrovirus) has become stronger, and seroconverts at a much faster rate. The data I just checked suggests that while in some people, HIV can be detected within 72 hours of infection, but in over 99% of infection, HIV cannot be detected in the new host until 3 - 4 weeks after infection.

So... a month, give or take a few days.

Which means, for 99% of people, they can be infected with HIV for upwards of a month, and even test negative for HIV infection in that month, but still infect other persons if they engage in unprotected sex and deposit their non-dectible HIV-infected bodily fluids inside another person.

In other words:

NEVER fuck around without a condom in at least the first year of any relationship, and NEVER fuck around without a condom in any relationship where either partner is even suspected of having sex with someone outside the relationship.

It's been 30 years; I can't begin to describe how disillusioning it is to me that this same old conversation is taking place, or that their are still persons who want to parse every phrase and word of a safer sex guideline.

Ted Hayes Ted Hayes | June 4, 2011 2:26 PM

Lonnie, I am going to be even more radical here. I would have been much happier if the researchers had used the words "122 males ages 16-20," instead of lumping them all together as men. I would like to have seen the age breakdown since I still consider those who are 16 or 17 as children, regardless of how indignant they might become. Just being out at those ages does not make them men. And at even 18, 19 and 20 they are still but young adults -- very young.

I completely agree with you that those who are 50 would have a much different interpretation of what is meant by a serious relationship. As an octogenarian, I find it amusing to hear gay males in their teens and early twenties expressing awe that the "serious relationship" of their friends is a length of 2-3 years. I usually ask them in jest to call me in 50 years and let me know if they still think that way.

Hey, but I am just an old fart. Maybe I am just out of touch.

Eric, you are the prettiest girl in the whole school. You really really are. Here is your crown.

Divas who live in glass houses should not throw high heels.

I notice you are one of the BP's resident bitches, trashing on others but getting pissy when others disagree with you. Charming.

I understand the difficult journey your life must be. To have to push through life when you are right and everyone else is wrong. I feel your pain.

Stay strong.

Eric Payne | June 3, 2011 6:56 PM

First, Lonnie, I am not a girl. I'm male.

Since you're opening statement is invalidated, the rest of your argument has no face value.

You have a good day and, remember, as you said in another thread, you need to keep learning.

Especially if you have, seemingly, no idea of how to protect yourself from being infected with a communicable pathogen that, to date, has shown itself to eventually be fatal.

Have a nice day. It's Friday night. Go out, have fun, throw your legs in the air and fuck your night away. I don't give a damn. And if you in your sexual adventures choose not to use condoms, then you don't give a damn, either.

The short article may not summarize the study right but there are a few obvious points. 1) There is NO risk in having unprotected sex with your partner if he is uninfected and you are in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship. I would assume all partnered and married couples have sex without condoms. 2) There are no 16-20 year-old people who are in serious relationships. 3) The advice to have at least two negative HIV tests (and at least a year of exclusivity) before having unprotected sex is definitely good.

The headline made me giggle. It reminds me of "Breaking: Cat Like to Eat Mice." Well, duh.