In March 2020, Australian state and federal governments introduced physical distancing measures alongside widespread testing to combat COVID-19. These measures may decrease people’s sexual contacts and thus reduce the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmissible infections (STIs). We investigated the impact of physical distancing measures due to COVID-19 on the sexual behaviour of gay and bisexual men (GBM) in Australia.
Between April 4 and April 29 2020, 940 participants in an ongoing cohort study responded to questions to measure changes in sexual behaviours during the COVID-19 pandemic. Men reported the date they become concerned about COVID-19, and whether they engaged in sexual behaviour with regular or casual partners or ‘fuckbuddies’ in the six months prior to becoming concerned about COVID-19 (hereafter referred to as ‘before COVID-19’), and following the date they become concerned about COVID-19 (hereafter referred to as ‘since COVID-19’). Before and since COVID-19 was based on individual participants’ own perceived date of becoming concerned about COVID-19.
Mean age of was 39.9 years (SD: 13.4). Most participants (88.3%) reported sex with other men during the six months before COVID-19. Of the 587 men (62.4%) who reported sex with casual partners before COVID-19, 93 (15.8%) continued to do so in the period since COVID-19, representing a relative reduction of 84.2%.
GBM in Australia have dramatically reduced their sexual contacts with other men since COVID-19. These behavioural changes will likely result in short-term reductions in new HIV and STI diagnoses. If sexual health screenings are undertaken prior to resuming sexual activity, this could present a novel opportunity to interrupt chains of HIV and STI transmission.