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A new study has found that not only are gay and bisexual men continuing to have sex during the COVID-19 pandemic, but half of men aren’t aware that hooking up can spread the virus.
Researchers at the Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities at the University of Michigan surveyed 518 gay and bi men recruited through ads on Facebook, Instagram, and Grindr.
They found that only 50% of the men realized that COVID-19 could be transmitted during sex, and 64% of respondents didn’t feel they needed to reduce their sexual partners.
In addition, the men were having more sex during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic’s first wave in spring, with respondents on average having 2.3 more sexual partners at that time.
The study, published in the journal AIDS and Behavior, asked the men about their sexual behavior between February and April. Since then, more than 13.4 million people have been infected with the coronavirus, and almost 267,000 people have lost their lives.
As well as increased sexual activity, the respondents also reported increased substance and alcohol use, which researchers noted “may be coping strategies for the stress of living in lockdown,” Gay Star News reports.
“Men who reported that their substance use had increased during lockdown were significantly more likely to report increases in number of sex partners, anal sex partners and unprotected sex partners, but there was no significant associations with reporting decreases in substance use,” researchers wrote.
‘These increases in substance and alcohol use may reflect more opportunities for use (while confined to the home and not in a workplace settings) and may also reflect an increase in negative coping behaviors in response to high levels of stress and uncertainty during the epidemic.”
Researchers noted that the men they interviewed didn’t deny the reality of the pandemic, but rather “that COVID-19 exists elsewhere and happens to other people.”
And while 94% of respondents realized that kissing was a transmission risk, half of the men believed that COVID-19 couldn’t be transmitted during anal sex.
Semen isn’t a source of transmission, but analingus can transmit the virus and being in close proximity to another person can lead to transmission, researchers noted.
Alongside increased sexual activity and substance use, researchers also noted other impacts the pandemic is having on gay and bisexual men.
Among respondents, almost 12% reported suffering food insecurity, more than 4% had experienced homelessness, and 1.4% reported engaging in sex work for the first time.
Earlier this year, a study by Vanderbilt University found that most gay and bisexual men who experienced COVID-19 symptoms or a positive coronavirus diagnosis during the initial phase of the pandemic refrained from telling their partners.
Unlike the Michigan University study, Vanderbilt found that its respondents had reduced their sexual activity during the first month of the pandemic.
More than half (59%) of respondents had no sexual partners, while 78% of those who were sexually active opted for only one partner. That represented a decrease for some, as one-fifth of respondents said they usually had more than one sexual partner in a month.
In June, Harvard University issued guidance on safer sex during the pandemic, advising that potential sex partners avoid kissing, wear face masks, and stay away from any acts “with a risk for fecal-oral transmission or that involve semen or urine.”
The recommendations weren’t absolute or guaranteed, however, with researchers stating that any in-person contact “results in substantial risk for disease transmission.”
Adding that abstinence is “not feasible for many,” researchers said that it can also have potentially negative psychological effects.
“Sexual expression is a central aspect of human health but is often neglected by [health care providers],” they write. “Messaging around sex being dangerous may have insidious psychological effects at a time when people are especially susceptible to mental health difficulties.”
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