Gay men, transgenders engage in high-risk sex at such gatherings
OVER 70 per cent of gay and bisexual Asian men use the Internet to find sexual partners. About 60 per cent said they travelled, and of these, 12 per cent attended private sex parties while overseas, according to an online survey by gay lifestyle portal Fridae.com. Such private sex parties were the “epicentre” of sexual infections like HIV, overriding other common meeting places like public saunas, said Dr Stuart Koe, founder of the portal which is based in Singapore. Eight per cent of those who travelled also had unprotected sex while abroad, he added.
The findings were released yesterday at the first-ever Asian regional conference to tackle HIV among gay men and transgender people. Dr Koe, who presented the findings at the Developed Asia Regional Consultation on HIV in MSM (men who have sex with men) and transgender people, called for a regional response to counter the problem that private sex parties posed towards the spread of HIV.
“This is where the highest-risk sex is happening – where the rates of condom use are the lowest, the prevalence of HIV the highest, and drug use is also the highest,” he said. That people can hook up with sex partners by a simple click of the mouse has also resulted in the trend going regional. Hong Kong and Taiwan are the hottest places for private sex parties – with 10 per cent of respondents having attended one in their own countries. This was followed by Thailand at 9 per cent and Singapore at 8 per cent. “The Internet has enabled people to meet other people for liaisons. So they no longer need to go to public places – the pubs, pools, or saunas. They can do it in the comfort of their homes or hotel rooms,” said Dr Koe.
The Straits Times understands that these parties are informal get-togethers where friends and even visiting tourists are invited through word of mouth. They are usually free of charge. Some parties involve just drinking and dancing, but others are wilder, with participants having unprotected sex and consuming drugs. The online survey was conducted in the first two months of this year. About 14,000 gay and bisexual men across 12 countries in Asia responded.
Another issue raised yesterday was the fear generated by laws that criminalise gay sex. “Even if punitive laws are not enforced, they are still on the books – this can drive people underground,” said Mr Geoff Manthey, regional programme adviser of UNAIDS, the United Nations programme on HIV/Aids. For instance, people may be unwilling to seek help from medical clinics or welfare organisations for fear of having to reveal their sexuality. Such laws may also hinder some governments from addressing the issue publicly or funding any initiatives, he added.
Sex between men is still illegal in Singapore and Malaysia, and South Korea restricts the entry of people with HIV. Mr Manthey said that this was one reason why more gay men were succumbing to HIV despite falling global infection rates, and that the prevalence of HIV among this group remained dramatically higher than national averages across the region.
In Singapore, HIV is 21 times more rampant among gay men. Last year, 512 men who have sex with other men underwent tests for sexually transmitted infections at the National Skin Centre here. About 11.5 per cent were found to have syphilis, while 4.1 per cent had urethral gonorrhea and 5.8 per cent tested positive for HIV.
The two-day conference hosted by Fridae brings together over 70 experts from seven Asian countries to discuss HIV prevention and treatment services for the gay and transgender community.