When researchers at Emory University decide that “Sex is the Question” that they want to ask gay men, they don’t hold back. Far beyond oral and anal, the ongoing national gay sex study gets personal. Really personal.
Think of it as a gay game of “Have You Ever” about the stirrings in your pants. And not just for sexy fun but for scientific research. You see, “Sex is the Question” to help fight HIV.
Grindr, top or bottom preferences, PrEP use, Party-N-Play (drugs and alcohol), and your bar-hopping habits are all on the table – but in the anonymous privacy of your own home. That’s by design so that behaviors can inform future HIV prevention strategies, says Craig Sineath, a senior public health program associate at Emory's Rollins School of Public Health.
“Since HIV is a sexually transmitted infection, it is important for us to ask and know about these behaviors,” Sineath tells Project Q. “Many people may be hesitant to talk about these types of things in-person, which is why we believe using a web-based survey can allow participants to be much more honest with us researchers when asked about their sexual behaviors.”
Sineath and his colleagues are willing to drill deep for their answers. The latest phase in a years-long study is going on now, and you too can anonymously put your deeds, intimate thoughts and conquests on the record for posterity. Participate by going here in metro Atlanta, or clicking here from Greater Houston.
Before you do, we asked Sineath to update us on the study progress since our last encounter. He talks about how its going with tens of thousands of gay men, and how the latest “Sex is the Question” survey is even juicier for participants than before.
What's the demographic you're seeking for respondents to the survey? In the past, you've used Grindr, social media and ad campaigns on LGBT websites to attract people to the survey. With this round, how are you working to reach new respondents?
The “Sex is the Question” survey aims to collect information on HIV testing, risk behaviors, and access to and use of prevention services on gay and bisexual men across the United States over time to monitor trends. This information can then be used by researchers and public health officials to help plan new programs and monitor existing ones. Given this, we hope to reach as many gay and bisexual men in the U.S. as possible. We have broadened our efforts this year and are recruiting on numerous social media sites and general websites frequented by gay and bisexual men.
When we talked last year, your goal was to have up to 170,000 men across the U.S. complete the survey over three years. When we talked last May, more than 12,000 men had completed the survey. Where do things stand in terms of that number and where are things in the overall timeline of the survey?
Because of the ethical review process at Emory, we had to specify a maximum number of respondents. We set the maximum at 170,000 to allow us to be flexible. Our goal is to collect completed surveys from at least 10,000 men each year. The last data cycle began in December 2013 and ran until May 2014. We collected 12,369 completed surveys in the 2013 cycle. The current cycle started in October 2014 and we will reach our sample size by early- to mid-March.
What's changed, if anything, with the project or the survey since we talked in May 2014?
Since May 2014, there has been a lot of activity with this project. First, we did update the survey to make it a bit more interesting for guys. Also, using last year’s data, we were able to provide state specific reports to 28 state health departments and are working on reports to send out to several larger cities. Many of these state departments do not have access to much data on risk behaviors, so they can use this information to help inform their prevention programs.
Can you give us any early indications on what sort of insights you're seeing from this latest round of the survey?
Since we are still in the midst of data collection, we haven’t really started digging into this year’s dataset quite yet. We have started the process of disseminating reports and manuscripts from last year’s data, and will start that process with this year’s data as soon as we wrap up the cycle in mid-March.
PreP is a hot issue among gay men now. Last year, the survey asked about it. Is that the case again this time around? What can you share in terms of what you're seeing concerning questions around PreP?
PrEP is definitely a big part of this survey. As more and more guys start using it to prevent HIV, it is important for us to monitor who knows about it and who is using it. This will allow public health officials to see trends in PrEP use and help us figure out what gaps there are related to access to this prevention strategy to help scale it up.
Any other insights you'd like to offer about the survey and study effort?
First, we would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to take this survey. The information we collect with “Sex is the Question” is very important and helpful in monitoring trends and planning prevention programs. Also, we have some big things planned for the coming year. The next cycle will launch in late summer, and we have started working on a website to show the information we have collected in this survey on a map to look at regional trends in HIV testing, risk behaviors, and access to and use of prevention services.