1980s homophobia link to why older gay men avoid HIV tests

Older gay men could be put off getting tested for HIV because they are still haunted by the “mass homophobia of the 1980s”, according to new findings by Scottish sexual health researchers.

A laboratory expert holding a blood test for HIV antibodies

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, analysed data from 2436 men living in the Celtic nations of 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.

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Some three per cent of the UK population identify as gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, but they still bear the greatest burden of HIV, with 54 per cent of all new diagnosis being among this group. Evidence shows that 37 per cent of HIV positive men who have sex with men in Scotland are currently undiagnosed.

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.

Dr Frankis, reader in sexual health psychology at GCU, said yesterday that the mass homophobia from the ‘80s and the introduction of the controversial Section 28 clause, an amendment to the Local Government Act 1988 banning local authorities and schools from “promoting” homosexuality, could still be damaging the health of the older gay male population.

He said: “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.

“Our research showed stigma was only associated with less recent HIV testing for older men. However, not identifying as gay was related to less HIV testing for men aged 26 and above.

“For older men, it looks like the barriers seem to come up in terms of your own management of sexual identity within the wider culture you are living in. That would speak to the homophobia that was present in the ‘80s at the onset of HIV.

The findings have been published in the British Medical Journal.