The GBQ+ Community Periodic Surveys and recent trends in HIV-related behaviour

Martin Holt, Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW Sydney

The GBQ+ Community Periodic Surveys (formerly called the Gay Community Periodic Surveys) are surveys of gay and bisexual men and non-binary people who have sex with GBQ men that are conducted every year to coincide with LGBTIQA+ festivals (such as Midsumma in Melbourne, Sydney’s Mardi Gras, or Brisbane Pride). The surveys have been conducted since 1996 and focus on HIV and sexual health-related behaviour, such as testing, use of different prevention methods, and sexual relationships. Recruitment of participants is undertaken at LGBTIQA+ festival events and venues by teams of trained peers, supplemented by online advertising. While the project is led by the Centre for Social Research in Health at UNSW, most state- or territory-based recruitment is organised by a Health Equity Matters member organisation, because of their strong networks of peers and relationships with venues. Because of the community-oriented recruitment method, the majority of participants continue to be cisgender gay men, although over the last decade we have seen an increase in the number of bi+, trans and gender diverse people participating.

The last decade of the surveys has witnessed some major changes. First, we have observed a dramatic increase in the awareness and use of biomedical HIV prevention methods (PrEP and U=U), with the surveys showing that PrEP became more commonly used than condoms for HIV prevention in 2019, and the number of participants relying on U=U for prevention continuing to increase each year. Secondly, the surveys have captured the disruption caused by COVID-19, with the number of sexual partners, levels of HIV and STI testing and PrEP use all falling during COVID-affected rounds (in 2020 and 2021), and HIV risk increasing among participants who continued to have casual sex. These indicators have largely returned to their long term trends in 2022 and 2023, but further analysis shows that some groups of gay and bisexual men have been more affected by COVID-19 and are less likely to show a recovery in testing or prevention coverage. They also continue to report greater risks of HIV transmission during casual sex. These groups include younger participants (aged under 25), participants living in suburbs with fewer gay residents, and bisexual men. All these groups would benefit from greater encouragement to reengage with regular testing and adopt more consistent use of HIV prevention.

A current focus of the surveys is to broaden the range of participants engaged in the project, with a particular focus on increasing the participation of recently-arrived migrants, and better capturing the gender and sexuality diversity of the sample (and the range of partners that participants have). The online version of the survey allows participants to complete the questionnaire in seven languages other than English, although at the moment only a small number of participants complete the survey using these languages each year. In 2024, after a year of consultation and development with community organisations and governments, we introduced a more gender and sexuality-inclusive version of the questionnaire, which field testing indicates is much easier to complete by bi+, trans and gender diverse participants, and captures a broader range of sexual behaviour e.g. sex with male, female and non-binary partners. We will start to release and discuss the results of the new questionnaire later in 2024.

You can find out more about the GBQ+ Community Periodic Surveys, including all our recent publications, here. You can see where we are currently recruiting or plan to recruit here.

Published: April 2024