Researchers investigate sexual and mental health behaviours of men who have sex with men

21 April 2016

Researchers investigate sexual and mental health behaviours of men who have sex with men

Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) are analysing how men who have sex with men think and behave in terms of their sexual and mental health and overall wellbeing.

The Social Media, MSM and Sexual and Holistic Health Study (SMMASH2) was launched online last week through networking websites and mobile apps.

Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) experience significant inequalities in health and wellbeing, and a disproportionate burden of ill health in relation to sexual health, mental health and substance use.

Recent results from the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL-3) demonstrated that 46% of MSM reported at least two of these three interrelated health inequalities (compared with 16% of men reporting sex with women exclusively) and 6.2% reported all three (Mercer et al, 2015). Research suggests that poor health outcomes for MSM are tied to patterns of increasing sexual risk and drug use, grounded in social stigma and discrimination.

Partly funded by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Lothian health authorities, the study is investigating MSM’s health status to inform the development of future health services and online health advice about HIV/STI testing and prevention, mental health support and substance misuse for MSM.

GCU researchers Dr Jamie Frankis and Dr Marion Welsh are conducting the survey, recruiting participants via social and socio-sexual networking websites and mobile apps including Facebook, Gaydar, Recon and Grindr. The team are working closely with two specialist NHS sexual health services already established for MSM; the Steve Retson Project, based at the Sandyford Initiative, Glasgow, and ROAM Outreach at the Chalmers Sexual Health Centre, Edinburgh.

The international steering committee for this project includes input from Glasgow University, Strathclyde University, LSHTM, UCL, University of Toronto, University of New South Wales as well as NHS clinical, third sector professional and service user input.

Dr Frankis said: “We know that MSM have poorer sexual health, poorer mental health, greater alcohol, smoking and recreational drug use but these issues have never been looked at in concert in these countries. We also know that MSM have greater levels of education and income, which should be protective health factors, so we are also looking at issues such as disabilities, stigma and emotional coping to try and tease out what underpins these multiple health inequalities.

“The SMMASH2 study will allow us to understand how these multiple health inequalities sit together for MSM at the population level, which is essential to develop targeted and relevant services and prevention interventions. The new study builds on our earlier work commissioned by NHS Lanarkshire, which explored social media, MSM and sexual health, to provide essential baseline data for new services to improve the sexual health of men who have sex with men in Scotland.”

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