British Columbia

The more sex partners gay Vancouver men have, the better they are at practicing safe sex: study

The study looked at how men practiced 'seroadaptive' strategies — or how to avoid transmitting HIV.

Researcher says education, outreach a factor in community that’s disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS

The Saskatchewan Health Authority is urging people to get tested frequently for syphilis as symptoms can go unnoticed. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

A new study has found that gay and bisexual men with more sexual partners are better at practicing safe sex.

The research out of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS debunks a common myth that being more promiscuous puts you more at risk for the virus.

"I think we hear that time and time again... 'If people just reduce how many sex partners they have,'" said Nathan Lachowsky, one of the study's authors, on CBC's The Early Edition. "But it really it only takes one partner and one sexual act to transmit any kind of STI."

The study divided the Vancouver men in its sample into groups based on the number of sex partners they'd had in the past six months. It then asked them about which seroadaptive strategies they practiced — "sero" means blood and "adaptive" means changing one's behaviour.

"It's using knowledge of HIV status and HIV transmission to make a decision to alter sexual behaviours to reduce the risk of transmission," he explained.

The study found that the men with the most sex partners were also the best at employing strategies to prevent HIV transmission.

Nathan Lachowsky says it really only takes one partner to transmit an STI. (Nathan Lachowsky)

Condoms are one way to reduce HIV transmission. But asking about a partner's viral load — that's the number of HIV virus particles in a milliliter of blood — is also a good protective strategy, according to Lachowsky.

Universal access to HIV treatment in the province has improved the number of people who are able to achieve undetectable viral loads.

"That research has shown us that [having a low viral load] basically eliminates the likelihood that someone will be able to pass on the virus," he said.

On the other hand, factors associated with being worse at practicing safe sex were mental health and substance use issues. Lachowsky says that's one area he wants to look into further.

An adversely affected community

One in five gay men in Metro Vancouver is living with HIV/AIDS, but Lachowsky thinks his findings are sign that education and outreach initiatives are working.

"I think we wanted to teach people that they could have sexually fully expressive lives and do so in ways that are safe for themselves and safe for their partners," he said.

Although Lachowsky would love to say he could extrapolate his findings to the straight community, he can't.

"I do think that in some ways this might reflect something that's uniquely occurring in the gay men's community… Because of the disproportionate number of gay men that are living with HIV."

With files from CBC's The Early Edition

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: BC study finds gay and bisexual men with the most sex partners are better at practicing safe sex