CAMPsafe Sex Survey is Good News, Bad News
|Is the glass half full or half empty? That ages-old question of perspective comes quickly to mind in reviewing findings from the 1998 CAMPsafe Survey of Safe Sex Practices. While the statistics give reason to cheer the efforts many gay men have made to protect themselves and their partners from HIV/AIDS, the numbers also give a disturbing indication of how many visitors to and residents of Rehoboth Beach have continued to take unnecessary risks.
Among the most troubling findings, more than 10% of the gay and bisexual men surveyed described themselves as at "medium" to "high risk" for HIV infection, yet almost every one of these men reported that they had continued to engage in unsafe sexual practices. Similarly disturbing, slightly more than half (51%) of the gay and bisexual males said that they "never" or "seldom" asked new sexual partners if they had been tested for HIV, and 40% did not always use a condom during anal sex.
On a brighter note, 39% of the men said they were "more likely" to have used condoms in the 12 months preceding the survey than in the past. More than one-fourth said they had made some kind of change in their sexual behavior during that time period in order to be safer, and about one-third said they already had been playing it safe.
The survey was conducted last summer as part of the CAMPsafe campaign, an HIV outreach project of CAMP Rehoboth supported by the state of Delawares Department of Health and Human Services. The survey was completely voluntary and totally anonymous. Of the 126 responses, 60 were completed through hand-written forms (available at various locations around the beach community), and 66 were submitted through the CAMP Rehoboth/CAMPsafe web site.
The CAMPsafe Project, now in its second year, specifically targets gay and bisexual males. A total of 87 participants identified themselves as male homosexuals and six as male bisexuals; five other men stated that they were exclusively heterosexual. The survey also received 28 responses from women, and their responses were tabulated separately.
The questions were stated in terms of a respondents behavior during the 12 months immediately preceding the survey (unless otherwise noted).
Results from Gay and Bisexual Males
The survey reached a well-educated group of men, mostly between the ages of 26-50. A total of 81% of the 93 gay and bisexual males had college or post-graduate degrees. Only five of the men were age 25 or younger; none were under 18. All but two of the respondents listed their race as white. One identified himself as Native American, one as white-Hispanic. The survey clearly missed African Americans and teen-agers, two groups in which HIV infection rates have been rising, according to numerous recent studies.
By zip codes, the home addresses of the respondents covered the entire mid-Atlantic region. Twenty-four said they were from Delaware (six from upstate, 18 from Dover and points south); 21 from Washington, DC; 16 from Pennsylvania; 9 from Maryland, and 7 each from Virginia and New Jersey. The rest cited zip codes from outside the region.
Among the key findings from gay and bisexual men:
83% had been tested for HIV at some point in time. 10% said they already had HIV. A total of 25% had (at some point in their lives) VD or another sexually transmitted disease.
32% had sex with one man in the preceding 12 months. 18% had sex with 2-3 men. 20% had sex with 4-9 men. 8% had sex with 10-14 men. 11% had sex with 20 or more men. The others had not had sex with any men or did not answer.
74% of the men who were HIV- characterized their chances of getting HIV as "low," 12% as medium, only 1% as high. Thirteen per cent said they did not believe they were at any risk for HIV infection. Most of this group attributed their statement to the fact that they had not been having sex with anyone or that they were in long-term, monogamous relationships.
31% (29 men) said they had changed their sexual behavior, and all but a handful indicated that the reason was to ensure protection for themselves and their partner(s). These men were asked a follow-up question concerning what changes they had made: 41% (15 men) said they used condoms more often; 35% (13 men) said they had sex with fewer people. Two men reported that they stopped having sex altogether. Another five men said that their change was to "have sex with more people."
53% said they had not changed their sexual behavior. Among the 49 men who reported no change, 34 of them said they did not believe they had needed to make changes because their sexual practices already were safe or low risk. Another respondent noted, "I consider mine acceptable risks." Ten men did not answer the question as to why they had not changed their behavior. Among them was a man who considered himself as at high risk for HIV, who said he was having sex with more people (4-9 in the preceding 12 months) and who used condoms only "half the time."
29% always asked new partners if they had been tested for HIV. 12% usually asked, 1% asked half the time, and 20% seldom asked. A total of 31% never asked. (The remaining men said they had not had any sexual partners or they did not answer the question.) One respondent noted that he never asked because he assumes "everyone is a potential carrier."
39% of the total group said they were more likely to have used a condom, 38% as likely and 15% less likely. (The others reported no partners.)
14% of the men said they never had anal sex. Of those who did, 60% said they always used a condom during anal sex. 30% used condoms some of the time (ranging from "seldom" to "nearly always"). Ten per cent said they never used them, some of the men noting that they did not believe condoms were required because they were in long-term and/or monogamous relationships.
68% said they never used a condom or other barrier during oral sex. Another 12% seldom did. Only 11% of the men said they always or nearly always use such a barrier for oral sex.
Only 2 men surveyed had injected drugs or steroids, one of them for "therapeutic" reasons. Neither had ever shared needles with another person.
Half the surveys respondents had used various street drugs. Marijuana was the most popular, used by 24 men. Amyl-nitrate was close behind, used by 22 men. Eleven used cocaine, ten used Ecstasy, eight used stimulants or amphetamines, eight used Ketamine (known as Special K), two used barbiturates and two cited having used hallucinogens or mushrooms. None listed heroin or crack.
Six men said they had at some point in their lives exchanged sex for money or drugs; 85 said they had not.
Three men said they thought they had a drug problem. Five said they thought they had an alcohol problem.
Fifteen men (16% of the total sample) said alcohol had affected their sexual behavior. Eight men (9%) said that drugs had affected their sexual behavior. But only five men stated that they thought they had an alcohol problem and only three thought they had a drug problem.
Asked how many alcoholic beverages they had consumed in the week before filling out the survey, 30 men said 1-4 drinks, 19 said 5-9 drinks, six said 10-14 drinks, two said 15-19 drinks, three said 20 or more drinks and three reported 30 or more drinks. Ten men said they "dont drink" and 19 others said they had not had any drinks during the week before the survey. (That is a total of 31% who reported no drinks.)
Asked from what sources they had received information on HIV/AIDS, the respondents most frequently cited newspapers (43 responses or 46% of the men surveyed.) Two locally based organizations were also very high on the list: Camp Rehoboth/CAMPsafe was selected by 37 respondents (40%) and the Sussex County AIDS Committee (SCAC) by 21 (23%). Among other area groups, the Delaware HIV Consortium drew eight responses, AIDS Delaware seven and the Kent Sussex AIDS Program (KSAP) two.
Television was mentioned by 33 men, radio by 25, friends by 17, doctors or nurses by 17, pamphlets by 16, health fairs by 11, public health clinics by 8, AIDS counselors by 7 and "on the street" by 6.
58% said they believed that CAMP Rehoboth was effectively meeting the needs of the gay, lesbian and business communities in Rehoboth Beach. Only 3% said it has not met community needs. The remaining 39% were uncertain or did not answer.
75% said they read LETTERS from CAMP Rehoboth.
Statistics on Female Respondents
Although women were not a specific target group of the CAMPsafe project at the time the survey was taken, it was made available to anyone who wished to participate.
Among the 28 female responses to the survey, 23 identified themselves as homosexual, one as bisexual and four as heterosexual.
Similar to the males in the survey, 75% of the women had college or post-graduate degrees. They were mostly between 26 and 50 years of age, with only three aged 25 or younger. Two of the women were African-American, 24 white and two multi-racial or "other."
Nine of the women reported that they were from Delaware (3 upstate, 6 from Dover south); 5 from Washington, DC; 4 each from Pennsylvania and New Jersey; 2 from Maryland, 1 from Virginia, 3 from outside the region.
Exactly 50% of the 28 women had been tested for HIV, half of them to "find out if infected." Others cited donating blood, routine medical check-up or hospital procedure as reasons.
A higher percentage of the female respondents were monogamous than the males. Among the 23 who had sexual contact with another female, 17 (74%) said they had been with only one partner. Four women said they had no partners, and two said they had multiple partners. Six women (including three heterosexuals and one bisexual) reported having had sex with only one man. One heterosexual woman reported having sex with 2-3 males.
18% of the women reported having had a sexually transmitted disease at some point in their lives. 64% characterized their chances of getting HIV as low, 32% as none.
Only one woman said that she had changed her behavior in the preceding 12-month period to be safer. That woman, who identified herself as heterosexual, said she was using condoms more often. All of the homosexual women skipped over questions about condom use.
53% of the women "never" asked their partners about their HIV status. 21% always asked and 10% sometimes asked. The others had no sexual partners or did not answer.
None of the women had injected steroids or drugs; one said she had exchanged sex for money or drugs.
As for street drugs, 16 (57%) said they had not used any. Eight women used marijuana and one Ketamine.
One woman said she was being treated for an alcohol problem; one said she had been treated for a drug problem.
Four women said that alcohol had affected their sexual behavior at some point in the preceding 12 months; one said that drugs had.
The women surveyed were less likely to drink than the men. Five of the women (18%) said they did not drink. Ten of the women (36%) said they had not had a drink in the week preceding the survey. Seven women had between 1-4 drinks; six had between 5-9 drinks.
As to where the women received information concerning HIV/AIDS, the most frequent answer was the same as among men: newspapers and magazines (10 women). Following, in order of number of responses, were: CAMP Rehoboth/CAMPsafe (7), television (7), doctor or nurse (7), school (7), radio (6), pamphlet (6), health fairs/festivals (4), HIV/AIDS workshops/classes (4), Sussex County AIDS Committee (3), AIDS Delaware (3), friends (3), Kent/Sussex AIDS Program (2), Delaware HIV Consortium (1), public health clinic (1), parents (1), AIDS counselor (1).
61% of the women said they considered CAMP Rehoboth to be effective in meeting the needs of the gay, lesbian and business communities in Rehoboth Beach. There were no negative responses; 39% said they were not sure or did not answer.
61% said they read LETTERS from CAMP Rehoboth.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 9, No. 2, March 12, 1999