So, have you done Gus? The University of Utah’s Psychology Department wants to know.
Gus is, of course, not the hot stud you might think he is, but GUS — the U’s Gay and bisexual Utah Survey for men. And researchers are hoping gay and bisexual men who didn’t take the survey during the Utah Pride weekend will go online and fill it out over the summer.
Launched on June 6, the survey is an attempt to better assess the health risks and health needs of men in Utah’s queer community, said David Huebner, a U of U assistant professor of psychology and study’s lead investigator. And the survey’s results, he added, will help better target services to this segment of the community, including those for HIV/AIDS education and prevention.
“Statewide surveys conducted by government agencies on topics such as substance use, sexual behavior or cigarette smoking don’t ask questions about respondents’ sexual orientation. So we know very little about gay and bisexual men here in our state,” said Huebner, who conducted a similar survey in Phoenix, Ariz.
The survey is important, Huebner explained, because HIV infections are increasing in Utah, having risen 16 percent in the last year. Worse, two-thirds of those new infections were found in men who have sex with men, who are currently Utah’s highest-risk group for contracting HIV. But despite these alarming statistics, Huebner noted that health workers “don’t know what levels of risk behavior look like” among men who have sex with men.
The anonymous survey consists of roughly 100 questions about sexual behavior, tobacco, alcohol and drug consumption, and participants’ knowledge of health services including free HIV testing, prevention and patient support. It will also ask gay and bisexual men if they have experienced discrimination, what media they watch and read, and where they spend their time — in places such as bars, coffee shops, social and community organizations or university clubs.
The part about men’s social activities is crucial, Huebner said, because the responses will give researchers and health organizations interested in HIV prevention and gay and bisexual men’s health an idea of how effective their outreach and advertising campaigns are.
“If, for example, we learn that guys who spend time at bars have no idea you can be tested at the Utah AIDS Foundation or the Salt Lake Valley Health Department, that suggests we should do a better job advertising testing services in bars,” Huebner explained. He noted that the Phoenix survey in which he participated, for example, found that 40 percent of respondents who engaged in high-risk sex did not go to gay bars. So researchers realized that they had to advertise HIV prevention and testing efforts in other places, such as online and in local adult bookstores.
The answers to these questions are important not only to U researchers, but to other organizations in the community. Utah’s GUS, Huebner noted, got off the ground in part because researchers discovered that other groups in Utah were looking to do the same thing. “So we decided we should all collaborate and do it once and do it right so we wouldn’t over-survey the community,” said Huebner. These groups include the Utah AIDS Foundation, the Utah Pride Center, statewide gay rights group Equality Utah and the HIV prevention program of the Utah Department of Health. The survey results, Huebner added, will be shared among these groups and among any who have an interest in queer men’s health.
“We’re hoping to get a huge response, and are very much looking forward to seeing the results,” said Tyler Fisher, programming director for the Utah AIDS Foundation. “These findings will help our organization — as well as others that serve this community — to guide programming in the coming years.”
But before UAF and other groups can do that, men need to take the survey. Huebner said he hopes at least 1,000 men will complete the survey over the summer. He also added that transgender men and women of any sexual orientation are also welcome and encouraged to take the survey.
“Anyone biologically male or who identifies as male and who has sex with men, including straight men who have had sex with men too [can take the survey],” he said.
Huebner and the study’s other partners hope that at least 1,000 men will take the survey. GUS will be available at psych.utah.edu/gus throughout the summer.
“We already have tremendous support and enthusiasm for this work among our community partners. Now we just need men in the community to get on board and share their experiences,” said Huebner.