Male Call survey pulls no punches

Published 23, Apr, 2013
Author // Bob Leahy - Publisher

Bob Leahy reports on the Canada-wide survey of men who have sex with men that tells us a lot about how both positive and negative guys think and act.

Male Call survey pulls no punches

The Canada-wide survey Male Call interviewed 1,235 men who have sex with other men  (MSM)  - and the results have now been published. It’s been described as “one of the most innovative, ambitious and comprehensive studies ever of this demographic.” It contains quite a few surprises.                      

Why the survey? “Men who have sex with men are the most  vulnerable to HIV, and yet – until now – a clear sense of the attitudes, opinions,and behaviours of many in this group have been missing',” says Dan Allman, Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “With responses from both rural and urban areas, in all regions of the country, our survey provides new directions for health policies and programs that can serve this group, prevent further HIV infection and improve overall health and well‐being”.           

The Male Call Canada telephone survey captured mens’ attitudes, opinions and behaviours on topics such as sexual identity, homophobia, general and mental health, condom use, HIV testing and disclosure, the criminalization of HIV and transactional sex. By employing a method in which respondents chose when and where to anonymously call into a toll‐free telephone line, researchers were able to collect responses from men aged 16 to 89, and from an impressive 40 per cent of Canadian postal codes.

The campaign had a celebrity endorsement. PositiveLite.com interviewed gay soccer player David Testo who gave his name to promoting the campaign in January 2012 – you can read my interview here. Testo’s involvement apparently generated a huge upswing in the number of respondents.

The Male Call website contains a series of attractive fact sheets  (designed incidentally by poz Toronto artist Raymoind Helkio, who also designs for PositiveLite.com.) The fact sheets make for fascinating reading, or those with more time can go to the full report here.

In one of the more startling revelations, 49% of men surveyed agreed with the statement “I would not have sex with a man who is HIV-positive even if I am very attracted to him.”

Here are some other fascinating tidbits . . . 

On casual sex, 67% of MSM surveyed reported having had some in the last six months.  How much?  6% of men reported 20 or more partners in that same period, 18% had 6-19 partners, 37% had 2-5 partners, 22% had only one casual sex partner and 17% had none.  52% of partnered men reported having casual sex.

Attitudes to Condoms

Here’s what people agreed with . . 

  • The benefits of using condoms outweigh the disadvantages 88.1%
  • I would only have anal sex with an HIV positive man if we used condoms 69.4%
  • It feels good to wear a condom because I feel safe 67.8%
  • I feel guilty when I don’t use a condom 57.7%
  • Condoms make sex less pleasurable 48.6%
  • The intimate act of giving or receiving cum is lost when using a condom 48.4%
  • When a person brings out a condom I feel physically aroused 32.1%
  • Safer sex is less important now that HIV treatments are available 10.2%

74.8% of Male Call participants had been tested for HIV and 34.5% of participants had been tested in the previous six months. 6.6% reported having HIV, 26.2% reported they were unaware of their status.

Expectations

Male Call participants were asked “When is the best time for an HIV-positive man to disclose his HIV status to a new sexual partner?”

  • before any penetrative sex (e.g. oral or anal) without a condom 56.2%
  • when they first meet 25.9%
  • before any non-penetrative sex (e.g. mutual masturbation) 11.9%
  • before any penetrative sex (e.g. oral or anal) with a condom 0.9%.

Knowing a Partner's Status

These question relate to the importance of knowing a partner’s HIV status  before engaging in the following sexual acts

  • 96.3% before unprotected anal sex.
  • 84.4% before protected anal sex.
  • 75.4%  before oral sex.
  • 43.3% before mutual masturbation

Shared Responsibility

  • 98.4% agreed that both sexual partners are equally responsible for preventing HIV transmission.
  • 87.4% agreed with the statement “In order to know a partner’s status for certain, it is an individual’s responsibility to ask his partner his status.”
  • 49.0% agreed with the statement “I would not have sex with a man who is HIV-positive even if I am very attracted to him."

Positive men

Turning now to the questions pertaining to HIV-positive men, 88% of HIV-positive participants rated their mental health as good to excellent. 87.3% rated their physical health as good to excellent.

68.3% of HIV-positive participants slept less than 8 hours per day. Only 31.7% reported 8 hours of sleep or more.

What do HIV-positive participants worry about? I worry about, they say...

  • Being discriminated against and stigmatized because of HIV.82.5%
  • Being rejected by gay and bisexual men in my community because I am HIV-positive 67.7%
  • The fear of being prosecuted by someone for not disclosing that I am HIV-positive 51.6%
  • Not understanding medical information about HIV 30.2%

On the issue of criminalization, the survey generated headlines like this one from the Sun and this one from the Globe and Mail because it appeared to find a large number of men who supported criminalization. In fact 83% of all men indicated non-disclosure before anal sex should be a crime, with 42% believing failure to disclose is criminal in the case of oral sex, while 17% opposed criminalization of non disclosure in any circumstances.

Here are some more disturbing numbers, straight from the report . . 

The Globe and Mail Story headlined with the worrisome title “HIV-AIDS non-disclosure should be a crime, study of gay and bisexual men finds.“  However the news is not all bad. PositiveLite.com asked Richard Elliott, Executive Director, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, for a comment.  Here’s what he said:

“Unfortunately, some important details of the Male Call study about HIV and men who have sex with men got lost in summation and a simplistic headline (“HIV-AIDS non-disclosure should be a crime, study of gay and bisexual men finds”, Apr. 11).  The result, I fear, is to simply perpetuate some knee-jerk and widespread stigmatizing attitudes about people with HIV and unjust applications of the criminal law.

"The study data in fact showed the following: men were virtually unanimous in supporting early disclosure of HIV and a strong majority expected a casual sex partner to disclose if he has HIV, but they were also virtually unanimous in agreeing that there both partners have equal responsibility for HIV prevention. Less than one-third of study participants thought criminal prosecutions for not disclosing HIV status are effective public policy when it comes to preventing the spread of HIV. In fact, the study data suggest public health harms: 62% think that criminal prosecutions increase stigma and discrimination against people with HIV, close to half agree that such criminalization deters people from seeking HIV testing and indeed 18% agreed that, given the current legal context of possible prosecution, it’s better not to get tested for HIV.

"But perhaps most significantly, the headline seriously oversimplifies the issue in suggesting that the strong majority of gay men and other men having sex with men support criminal prosecution for HIV non-disclosure. In fact, only 42% held this view without qualification. An equal number felt criminalization is not justified in some circumstances. Of these men, 70% said there should be no prosecution in cases where a condom is used – a sensible position that, regrettably, the Supreme Court of Canada rejected in its most recent pronouncement a few months ago. Similarly, 58% think criminal charges for not disclosing are not warranted in cases of oral sex. These more nuanced views quite properly reflect the available science we have about the exceedingly low risks of HIV transmission in such circumstances."

About the Author

Bob Leahy - Publisher

Bob Leahy - Publisher

Award-winning blogger Bob Leahy first made his social media mark a decade ago on LiveJournal.com where there are still to this day almost 3,000 entries of his available to be read. He was a featured blogger on Ontario’s HIVStigma.com campaign, along with PositiveLite.com founder Brian Finch. He joined PositiveLite.com at its inception in 2009 and became it's Editor a year later.

Born in the UK, Bob’s background is in corporate banking, which he gladly left in 1994, after being diagnosed with HIV the previous year.  He has chaired the board of PARN (Peterborough AIDS Resource Network) and has been an executive board member of both the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) and the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS).  He was inducted in to the Ontario AIDS Network’s Honour Roll in 2005.  Bob is currently a member of Ontario’s GMSH (Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance). He also writes for TheBody.com.

In 2012, Bob was honoured with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal for his work and commitment to HIV/AIDS in Canada.

Bob continues to write for this site while in the Positivelite.Com editor’s seat, with a particular interest  in HIV prevention, theatre and the arts in general. He is accredited media for a number of Toronto theatres. He lives in Warkworth, Ontario with his partner of thirty-two years and three dogs.