May 20, 2009 – The University of Utah and community groups statewide plan to survey 1,000 gay and bisexual men about their health risks starting June 6 in an effort to better target future services such as education to prevent AIDS.
“Statewide surveys conducted by government agencies on topics such as substance use, sexual behavior or cigarette smoking don’t ask questions about respondents’ sexual orientation. So we know very little about gay and bisexual men here in our state,” says the University of Utah’s lead investigator for the study, David Huebner, an assistant professor of psychology.
Distribution of the anonymous survey will begin Saturday, June 6 and Sunday, June 7 during the Utah Pride Festival at Washington Square in downtown Salt Lake City. Men can obtain the survey from outreach workers and at the booths of participating groups, including the Utah AIDS Foundation, the Utah Pride Center and Equality Utah.
The survey – which includes about 100 questions and takes about 20 minutes to complete – is known as GUS, which stands for “Gay and bisexual Utah Survey for men.” Ads for the survey will feature a fictitious gay character named Gus. The survey will be available online starting June 6 at www.psych.utah.edu/gus and distribution will continue throughout the summer.
“Our goal is to make this the largest study of gay and bisexual men’s health ever conducted in our state,” says Tyler Fisher, programming director for the Utah AIDS Foundation. “We’re hoping to get a huge response, and are very much looking forward to seeing the results. These findings will help our organization – as well as others that serve this community – to guide programming in the coming years.”
Huebner cites Utah health statistics showing new infections with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) jumped 16 percent during 2008. Two-thirds of the new infections were among men who have sex with men – the highest-risk group for HIV infection in Utah.
Yet, “we don’t know what levels of risk behavior look like here,” Huebner says. “No one has ever studied that among gay men in Utah.”
The survey will include questions regarding sexual behavior, tobacco smoking, alcohol and drug use. Other questions will ask participants about their knowledge of available services such as free HIV testing, HIV awareness and patient support, health services and so on. The survey also will ask gay and bisexual men where they spend time – bars, community organizations, university groups, coffee shops.
“If, for example, we learn that guys who spend time at bars have no idea you can be tested at the Utah AIDS Foundation or the Salt Lake Valley Health Department, that suggests we should do a better job advertising testing services in bars,” Huebner says.
He says a similar survey in Phoenix found that 40 percent of men who had high-risk sex didn’t go to gay bars, so researchers realized those men had to be reached with AIDS prevention efforts other ways, including through the Internet and adult bookstores.
Huebner says the survey’s findings will be shared “with everyone in Utah who has a stake in gay and bisexual men’s health. This is an important study for our community. We need as many men as possible to take the time to complete the survey. We already have tremendous support and enthusiasm for this work among our community partners. Now we just need men in the community to get on board and share their experiences.”