Flashback to '80s homophobia could be damaging the health of older men, research reveals

9 August 2019
Dr Jamie Frankis and Dr Jenny Dalrymple

Scottish sexual health researchers have found that older gay men could be put off getting tested for HIV because they are still haunted by “mass homophobia of the 1980s”.

Scientists from Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) and the University of Glasgow also discovered that younger men were less likely to test for HIV if they did not have a university degree and where they live influenced non-testing among both older and younger men, specifically in Wales and the Republic of Ireland.

The research, funded by GCU, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) and NHS Lothian, analysed data from 2436 men living in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland, who use online gay websites and apps to meet other men, to find out if age was a factor in the frequency of HIV testing in these nations.

Researchers involved in the study were GCU’s Dr Jenny Dalrymple, Dr Jamie Frankis, Dr Kareena McAloney-Kocaman, and former GCU Professor Paul Flowers, now at the University of Glasgow, and former University of Glasgow Professor Lisa McDaid, who has since moved to Queensland University in Australia.

To better understand why certain age groups tested less for HIV, the researchers analysed pre-existing data collected in 2016 through the large-scale social media, men who have sex with men, sexual and holistic health study (SMMASH2), led by Dr Frankis. The research findings have been published in the high-profile British Medical Journal - Sexually Transmitted Infections.

Dr Frankis, Reader in Sexual Health Psychology, explained: “Homophobic stigma is having a negative impact on the health of our older men but not younger men who’ve lived through periods with less homophobia and greater equality.

“It is possible that older men are still troubled by the mass homophobia of the ‘80s and that is affecting their own testing behaviour. They could still be harbouring fears around HIV as a heavily stigmatised infection rather than the HIV of today, which is a highly manageable condition.

“There was also the introduction of the Section 28 clause during that period and gay sex was only decriminalised in the ‘80s in Scotland and Northern Ireland and the ‘90s in the Republic of Ireland.”

 

Dr Dalrymple, clinical academic research fellow and sexual health nurse at NHSGGC, said: “The key findings are that there are age-related differences in testing behaviour in men who have sex with men in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and what that means is that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to designing interventions to try to increase HIV testing in men who have sex with men.

“We found that younger men were less likely to test if they did not have degrees, so further work needs to be done to address the needs of younger men who have sex with men who do not attend further education. Geographical location influenced non-testing among both the oldest and youngest age.”