Emory wants to know if you booze and bottom

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Emory isn't shy when it comes to gay men, sex and HIV. They've sought out slutty gays with smartphones, spend millions researching an AIDS vaccine and push for gay couples to get HIV tests together. So it's little surprise that now the school's research geeks are probing your cruising, cocktails and sex habits.

"Sex Is the Question" is a massive effort to learn more about gay men, how they get off, technology and how all of that might impact HIV prevention. Emory researchers hope up to 170,000 men across the U.S. will take the annual survey over the next three years. And they are reaching into surprising places to find them, including pop up ads on Grindr.

The survey, which takes about 15 minutes to complete, can be frank. Think of it as a Grindr chat, but one with a higher purpose. Still, the survey can provoke a laugh or two as it opens with some basic queries to make sure you get that it's about men who have sex with men.

8. Have you ever had oral sex (mouth on the penis) or anal sex (penis in the butt) with a man?

25. When you had sex that last time, did you have insertive anal sex where you put your penis in his anus (you were the top)?

But the study effort is about much more than just sex and includes questions about anti-gay bias, where you gay socialize and your cocktailing habits. So we chatted with Craig Sineath, a senior public health program associate at Emory's Rollins School of Public Health, to learn more.

What prompted the study?

This online study was prompted by the urgent need for ongoing and systematic data on a national level to monitor trends in HIV risk behavior, use of HIV testing services, and access to various prevention services among gay and bisexual men across the United States. With gay and bisexual men being disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic, it’s important that we look at how these risk behaviors are changing and how testing and prevention services are being used in order to improve public health services across the country. This study is funded by the MAC AIDS Fund and conducted by the PRISM Health Research team at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University.

I came across the study through an ad on Grindr. That seems like a pretty non-traditional route for Emory to use.

To recruit for this survey, we went where gay and bisexual men hang out online. We advertised on many sites including Facebook, Big Muscle, Black Gay Chat, Towleroad and Queerty to name a few. It’s great that these sites are working with researchers to help improve public health.

How wide ranging is it? How many participants are you hoping to get? And how long will the survey be available to complete?

Over 12,000 men across the country have completed the Sex is the Question survey this year. We are just wrapping up data collection for this first year, but stay tuned for the next cycle, which will launch sometime this summer.

The questions are specific and ask about sexual behavior, HIV tests, how people socialize and meet others for sex, and anti-gay bias, alcohol consumption, and PreP. Why this mix of questions?

Since these data will be used to monitor trends in HIV risk behaviors, HIV testing behavior, and access to and use of prevention services, it is important that we know a little context for each person including things like alcohol use, experiences of discrimination, how they socialize in-person and online, etc. All of these have some sort of relationship to sexual behavior and/or access to prevention services. After we finalize the dataset for this first year of data collection, we will immediately start analyzing the data for publication. Please follow our research team on Facebook or Twitter. Information about our community and research activities are posted there, along with any new publications.

Anything else you'd like to offer about the survey and study effort?

The second year of “Sex is the Question” will launch at the end of this summer. Many of the survey items will stay the same, however, the survey will be revamped to many new and different items. Stay tuned.

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