Let’s talk about it! A new website for gay men

Let’s talk about it! A new website for gay men

HIV Australia | Vol. 10 No. 1 | June 2012

Ben Wilcock profiles a new interactive website that encourages gay men to communicate more openly within relationships.

Let’s Talk About It!’ is a new interactive website produced by the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO). The site is designed to help gay men to build healthier relationships by encouraging them to talk with their boyfriends or partners and help them come to agreements about their relationships.

It has been demonstrated that having an explicit agreement about sex within a relationship (as well as outside of it, if this occurs) is associated with greater relationship quality and satisfaction in general, regardless of the nature of the agreement.1

Couples are also more likely to stick to the arrangement if they have a formal agreement in place, and maintaining these arrangements can help prevent the transmission and acquisition of HIV.

Negotiated safety is a term that refers to an agreement between HIV-negative men that limits unprotected anal intercourse (UAI) to only between partners within a regular relationship; any sex with other partners outside the primary relationship must be protected.2

Several studies have confirmed that having an explicit negotiated safety agreement is predictive of actual behaviour, both inside and outside the relationship.3, 4 It has also been demonstrated that men who don’t have a clear negotiated safety agreement – especially those who had given up condoms on the basis of an ad hoc risk assessment without taking a test – were also much more likely to report inconsistent condom use with casual partners.5

A substantial proportion of men experience discomfort discussing sex and HIV with their regular partner, and this can cause problems in making clear and unambiguous agreements; this also hinders the ability for a partner to communicate breaches of the agreement if this occurs. Not surprisingly therefore, more effective communication between partners is associated with a greater likelihood of informing a partner in the event of a breach of an agreement.6

However, the number of gay men in relationships forming explicit relationship agreements about the sex they can have with each other, and with other men if they do, has been decreasing over time in Australia. The ‘Let’s Talk About It!’ website has been produced in response to this decline to provide a tool to help gay men have these discussions and come to agreements in their relationships.

‘A website that supports gay men in relationships to clarify and agree on their expectations is very timely, explains Ian Rankin, President of AFAO, ‘Social research shows that fewer couples are reaching these agreements. A clear understanding between partners promotes healthy relationships and reduces the likelihood of disease transmission.’

The 2011 Annual Report of Trends in Behaviour by the National Centre in HIV Social Research (NCHSR) reports that negotiated safety agreements between HIV-negative partners have been declining over time .7

However, ‘Let’s Talk About It!’ is a resource for all gay men, not only men in relationships where both partners are HIV-negative. As Robert Mitchell, President of the National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS (NAPWA) points out: ‘There are many gay men living with HIV in relationships, both with HIV-negative men and other HIV-positive men. It is important for all men in relationships to have agreements for the health of both men in that relationship.’

A website was chosen as the mechanism for the resource because the format allowed information to be tailored to the circumstances of different gay mens’ relationships. As the user progresses through the site, they are presented only with information based on the answers about their circumstances. This helps streamline the provision of information and creates an interactive experience for the user.

The user can further tailor their experience on the website by choosing between two animated characters, ‘Nurse Nancy’ or ‘Nathan’ the personal trainer, to guide them through the information. The same information is provided by each character but in different styles or ‘voices’, a feature designed to add to the fun and interactive nature of the site.

This level of interactivity and tailoring of information aims to help gay men better engage with the site and the information provided, encouraging them to have discussions with their partners or boyfriends and help them come to agreements about their relationships. The website is www.letstalkaboutit.org.au


1 Wagner, G., Remien, R., et al. (2000). Prevalence of extradyadic sex in male couples of mixed HIV status and its relationship to psychological distress and relationship quality. Journal of Homosexuality, 39(2), 31–46.

2 Holt, M., Ellard, J. (2011). Literature review: HIV risk reduction strategies among gay men. Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, Sydney.

3 Moreau-Gruet, F., Jeannin, A., et al. (2001). Management of the risk of HIV infection in male homosexual couples. AIDS 15(8), 1025–1035.

4 Davidovich, U., de Wit, J., et al. (2000). Assessing sexual risk behaviour of young gay men in primary relationships: the incorporation of negotiated safety and negotiated safety compliance. AIDS 14(6), 701–6.

5 Moreau-Gruet, op. cit.

6 Prestage, G., Mao, L., et al. (2006). HIV risk and communication between regular partners in a cohort of HIV-negative gay men. AIDS Care, 18, 166–172.

7 de Wit, J., Holt, M., Hopwood, M., Treloar, C. (Eds.) (2011). HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections in Australia: Annual report of trends in behaviour 2011 (Monograph 3/2011). National Centre in HIV Social Research, The University of New South Wales, Sydney.

Ben Wilcock is a Health Promotion Officer at AFAO.