Objective: To examine whether gay men in a relationship have adopted negotiated safety as an HIV risk reduction strategy.
Methods: A confidential, anonymous questionnaire was completed by 1004 gay men attending gyms in central London in September-October 1997. Information was sought on sociodemographic characteristics, HIV testing and sexual risk behaviour. Men reporting unprotected anal intercourse (UAI) in the previous 3 months were classified as 'status-unknown' if they did not know their own HIV status, that of their UAI partner(s) or both. Men who knew their own and their UAI partner's HIV status were classified as 'status-known'.
Results: Of the 1004 men surveyed, 986 provided complete information on relationship, personal HIV test history and HIV status of UAI partner. Over half (539) said they were currently in a relationship with another man, of whom 173 reported UAI in the previous 3 months; 140 (80.9%) with their main partner only, 18 (10.4%) with a casual partner only and 15 (8.7%) with both their main and casual partners. Of the 140 men reporting UAI only with their main partner, 62 (44.3%) did not know their own HIV status or that of their partner. Overall, a quarter (26.0%) of the men in a relationship reported UAI only with their main partner in the previous 3 months; 11.5% status-unknown UAI, 14.5% status-known UAI. In a multivariate logistic model, both age and being in a relationship were significantly associated with UAI (status-unknown and status-known).
Conclusion: Gay men in a relationship, surveyed in central London gyms, have for the most part adopted the first principle of negotiated safety: only to have UAI with their main partner. However, not all have embraced the second principle: to establish HIV seroconcordance. Nearly half the men reporting UAI only with their main partner were unaware of their own HIV status, their partner's or both. As a consequence, more than one in 10 men in a relationship reported high-risk (i.e. status-unknown) UAI with their main partner. Because the study population, from central London gyms, was not randomly selected, these findings may not be generalizable to all gay men in London. Nonetheless, HIV prevention programmes should continue to encourage gay men in a relationship to seek an HIV test and establish seroconcordance if they wish to have UAI with each other.