Taxpayers Fund Study Establishing 'Web-Based Sex Diaries' for Gay Males as Young as 16

The National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has awarded $126,000 over the past two years to a University of Washington study that established "web-based sex diaries" for gay males as young as 16.

By the time the grants end in 2011, taxpayers will have spent more than $250,000 for the study.

"The study's second aim is to assess the feasibility of using web-based sex diaries to collect sexual behavior data and to identify the appropriate diary schedule. MSM [men who have sex with men] will be randomly assigned diary schedules and we will compare the frequency of reported behaviors across diary schedules and against the retrospective questionnaire data," the grant abstract states.

The study, titled "The Importance of Early Sexual Experiences Among Men Who Have Sex with Men," seeks to find out if the circumstances under which young homosexuals first engage in homosexual acts impacts their future sexual behavior.

Researchers will attempt to follow 100 gay men ages 16-20 who have had fewer than three gay sex partners or are "within three years of their same-sex debut," meaning that they had their first gay sexual experience within the past three years.

The 100 gay men will be asked to fill out an online questionnaire about their early gay experiences, take regular HIV tests, and fill out the sex diaries detailing the gay sex acts they engage in.

"Men who have sex with men (MSM) experience rates of HIV and bacterial sexually transmitted infections (STI) that are many times those experienced by heterosexuals in the U.S.," the abstract states.

"We propose to conduct a cohort study of 100 MSM who are: 1) age 16-20 with 1-3 lifetime male sex partners, or 2) age 16-30 within 3 years of their same-sex sexual debut. This cohort will be followed for 1 year during which participants will complete a baseline computer administered self-interview (CASI) regarding early homosexual experiences and sexual behavior; retrospective online follow-up questionnaires every 3 months; web-based sex diaries; and HIV/STI testing at baseline, 6, and 12 months."

The study, which has been awarded funding until completion in 2011, seeks to determine whether homosexual men who engage in same-sex relations at an early age are more likely to engage in further risky sexual behavior and, if so, what types of risky sexual behavior they engage in.

Investigators will try to find patterns common to the sexual behaviors of young gay men, including condom use, HIV status disclosure, and their sexual repertoire.

"[I]nvestigators will conduct exploratory analyses to define patterns of sexual behaviors such as condom use, HIV status disclosure, and sexual role and repertoire.

The principal investigator for the project is Dr. Matthew R. Golden of the University of Washington in Seattle. Golden is the director of the university's HIV/STD research program. According to NIAID, another $63,000 will be awarded for this project in fiscal 2010 and another $63,000 in fiscal 2011--giving the project a total of $252,000 in taxpayer funding through June of 2011.

CNSNews.com asked both Golden and NIAID the following question: "The Census Bureau says the median household income in the United States is $52,000. How would you explain to the average American mom and dad--who make $52,000 per year--that taxing them to pay for this grant was justified?

Golden did not respond to the question. But the National Institutes of Health responded by e-mail.

"One of the primary research goals of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is to develop effective HIV/AIDS prevention strategies to control and ultimately end the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which has killed 25 million people worldwide," an NIH spokeswoman said.

"The goal of this study is to augment efforts to prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among men who have sex with men in the United States, a population that is disproportionately affected by HIV and STIs.

"Although only a small percentage of American men report having sex with other men, this group accounts for nearly half of all people in the United States living with HIV and more than half of all new HIV infections in this country each year. It is noteworthy that some men who have sex with men also have sex with women, meaning an HIV-infected man in this population could also spread the virus to a heterosexual woman.

"This small pilot study by Matthew Golden is focused on determining the feasibility of a larger study to learn how young men who have sex with men form patterns of sexual behavior, what factors predict these patterns, and how these behavioral patterns change over a lifetime.

"This information will help scientists design more effective HIV and STI prevention programs for men who have sex with men in the United States, especially for those at highest risk for infection. With the lifetime cost of HIV/AIDS treatment in the United States estimated to range from $470,600 to $665,500 per person in 2004 dollars (which is $550,000 to $779,000 per person in 2010 dollars), it is more cost-effective to prevent HIV infection than to treat it."

Crossposted at NB sister site CNS News