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Study: 6 in 10 Queer Men With COVID Symptoms Hide Them From Partners


Gay and bi men are reporting record levels of abstinence. But stigma around the virus could be aiding transmission.


Gay and bi men are reporting "significant changes" in their sex lives during the health crisis.

In fact, nine out of 10 had no sex or sex with only one other partner in the past month, "which, for many, was a substantial decrease compared to just before the pandemic," noted a study from Vanderbilt University.

The survey collected responses from 1,968 LGBTQ+ Americans over 18 from April 10 to May 10. Gay and bi men made up 750 of the respondents and were recruited via Facebook, Twitter, and Grindr.

In the first month of the pandemic, more than half of queer male respondents (59 percent) had no sex at all. Of those who were sexually active, 78 percent limited their number of partners to one. To put this in context, one in five men reported usually having more than one sexual partner in a month.

Additionally, while about 35 percent engaged in masturbation, 12 percent abstained from solo sex, citing stress as inhibiting their sex drive.

"Men also made changes to the kinds of partners they had and their sexual activities with partners (e.g., more virtual sex), engaged in new strategies to reduce their risks of infection from partners, and expressed high levels of concern about how HIV may affect COVID-19 risk, treatment, and recovery," the study's abstract stated. "We expect these changes to be important not only for reducing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but also for reducing new sexually transmitted infections."

The study noted that there are many reasons LGBTQ+ people may be at "greater risk of severe disease if they are infected with COVID-19," despite the fact that "little attention has been paid to disparities by sexual orientation and gender identity" in the crisis. Factors include disparities in income, access to health care, HIV, and "different social norms around relationships and sexual contact patterns that may increase their risk of exposure."

In order to reduce COVID-19 risk, gay and bi men have adopted new strategies in their sex lives. These include "avoiding crowded places for finding new romantic or sexual partners, limiting the spaces where they hooked up with new romantic or sexual partners, and avoiding certain kinds of partners or events like group sex parties.

"Participants also inquired about their partner's behaviors. They asked partners about symptoms (16 percent), asked if partners were taking precautions to avoid COVID-19 (16 percent), and asked partners if they were staying home (13 percent).

"Among those looking for a new partner, participants felt it was 'extremely important' that potential partners be taking precautions when going out like washing their hands (69 percent), had sheltered in place for at least 14 days with no symptoms (47 percent), and were informing partners if they have had any symptoms like a fever or a cough (75 percent). Participants also thought it was important that potential partners tell them about other sexual activity (59 percent), including what precautions their partners' partners were taking (45 percent)."

Nondisclosure of COVID-19 symptoms was a major concern among gay and bi respondents, the study stressed. These fears are warranted. While 11 percent reported having a flu-like illness in the prior month, only 39 percent of those with symptoms disclosed this information or a positive diagnosis to partners.

An additional fear is the sustainability of abstinence. Indeed, the study, which was published May 29, notes that "the strategies that men have adopted are being used less frequently as states have begun to reopen."

To address these concerns, the study recommended more "targeted messaging" around how to have conversations about COVID-19 symptoms and safer sex strategies. It also called for more research into the impact of the novel coronavirus on those living with HIV.

Several governments, like the New York City Department of Health and the British Columbia Centre, have since released guidelines for having safer sex during COVID-19. Recommendations include face masks and even glory holes to prevent the possible transmission of viral droplets.

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Daniel Reynolds

Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.
Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.