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Vital Statistics - The Gay Men's Sex Survey

From Sigma Research


The Gay Men’s Sex Survey first occurred at the London Lesbian and Gay Pride Festival in July 1993. It has occurred every year since, except 1996. In the first three years (1993-1995), we only collected data at the London Pride event, using short self-completion surveys on a clip-board. After a break in 1996 the survey went national in 1997 with funding from Terrence Higgins Trust on behalf of the CHAPS national HIV prevention programme for gay men and bisexual men, funded by the Department of Health.

GMSS is a short, anonymous survey for completion by men who have sex with men. It is informed by the current interests of collaborating community-based health promoters, within the CHAPS framework known as Making it Count (Hickson et al. 2003). The survey seeks to describe:
• the level and distribution of behaviours causing HIV transmission,
• the unmet prevention needs that contribute to those behaviours, and
• the reach of interventions intended to reduce those needs.

The survey usually occurs each year during the summer and early autumn, using two main approaches. Since 2001 it has been available for completion online and advertised on gay community and commercial websites. Since 1999 it has also been produced as a self-sealing, free-post addressed, A6 booklet, distributed by community-based health promoters working with gay and bisexual men. From 1997 to 2002 it also occurred as an on-the-spot pen-and-paper survey at one day gay Pride-type community events in various cities.

Results are fed back to collaborators and local planners of HIV prevention via: local area data reports providing tailored data to help local planning; to planners of national interventions in annual UK-wide final reports; to gay and bisexual community members through gay press inserts and press releases; and to other researchers through journal articles. In addition, the research team respond to specific requests for data.

When local data is fed back to research collaborators, they respond with suggestions for the next survey. A rolling stock of questions is built up, allowing a large and diverse set of questions to be answered. Periodic repetition of questions allows for change in HIV risk behaviours and unmet needs to be described.

The data generated is closely tied to the planning of interventions by health promoters. Findings inform both the mix of prevention methods used within the CHAPS programme as well as the specific aims and targets for those interventions (eg. the topics addressed and sub-groups targeted). Data ensures that HIV prevention interventions address those needs which are currently most poorly met among all men who have sex with men and / or are better targeted at groups of men in greatest need. The survey also provides performance data about coverage, access, acceptability and effectiveness of national interventions. Increasing the performance of interventions ensures maximum reduction in unmet needs, thereby reducing HIV transmission risk behaviours.