Sigma Panel's starter for 13… (Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011)

Published by Ian in CHAPS at 4:03 pm. Skip down to comments or read the others.

The new Sigma Panel, a cohort of over three thousand gay and bisexual men in the UK who have said they're willing to fill in monthly online questionnaires for Sigma Research, got an email about the first one yesterday. Another 13 will follow.

It asks about relationships, sex life, risks and precautions, and use of health services. One of the goals is to describe what influences the choices men make during sex.

For those who want to know more about the panel, they are told that 40% of the panel live alone, 27% with a male partner, while "others are living with friends, parents, female partners, children and a range of other people (and pets)."

All of you are attracted to at least some men, and 41% are currently in a steady relationship with a man, about a quarter of which are in a Civil Partnership (or 11% of all Panel Members). 20% of you are also sexually attracted to at least some women, of which a quarter are in a steady relationship with a woman, most of whom are married (about 5% of all Panel members are married to women).

So, a fifth of the panel are bisexual men – going by the attraction definition – and the number actually married to a woman is about half of those in a civil partnership to a man. (UK law means you can't currently be both in a civil partnership and a marriage, evidence that the former is really the latter by a different name.)

What are all the questions about?

About sex with men

Panellists are asked about how many men they've ever had sex with, how many since their last STI test, and when they last have any kind of sex with a man. They're then asked about ‘Regular sex partners’ – people you keep having sex with – vs ‘Casual sex partners’ – everyone else.

We appreciate life is more complex than this, but we would like you to decide whether each of the men you have sex with are regular or casual partners. Please count each man as either a regular or a casual partner.

They're asked about when they last had any kind of sex with a regular male sex partner, and with a casual male sex partner.

It then moves onto what happened in January 2011. Did they have sex with a man then? If not, what were the advantages and drawbacks of not having done so? It's emphasised that it's "sex (with a man)" that the survey is asking about.

For those who did, how many different regular sex partners were there? Do they have the same HIV status? Did they have anal intercourse with them in January? If not, what were the advantages and drawbacks of not having done so? If they did, there are questions on being ’active’, condom use then, how many times it happened without a condom, and if their cum ever ended up in their bum. Repeat for being 'passive' with them.

Repeat for casual male sex partners in January, with added questions about where they were met. Interestingly, the options given are

A gay community centre, gay organisation or gay social group / A gay café, pub or bar / A gay dance club / A backroom of a bar, gay sex club, a public gay sex party / A gay sex party in a private home / A gay sauna / A porn cinema / A cruising location (street, roadside service area, park, beach, baths, lavatory) / A website for gay or bisexual men / Grindr (or similar GPS device) / Elsewhere

So, given that the website is "gay or bisexual" we can see that when it only says "gay" for the rest of them, it's not bi-inclusive. It's as if bisexual sex clubs didn't exist, never mind the social groups, or the sex parties (no link, but trust me!) or the rest.

They're also asked about disclosure / asking about HIV status with casual partners.

The next set of questions are about the last time they had sex with a new male sex partner. When was it? Was it part of group sex? How they met (same options as above) and where the sex took place (same, plus each other's or a friend's "place")? How long was it between first contact and having sex? Disclosure and knowledge about HIV status before or during sex? Did they have a regular sexual partner at the time they had sex with this new partner? What kinds of sex did they have on that occasion? Condom use and where did the cum end up? Were poppers used? What other drink or drugs? How much control would they say they had and how responsible would they say they were over what happened? How much risk of HIV transmission do they think there was and how much risk of terms of other STIs? Finally, they're asked to rate it from one to ten, and say what was good and not good about it.

Almost finally, they're asked about when they last saw or heard any information about HIV or STIs specifically for men who have sex with men, any information about HIV in a magazine or newspaper, actively looked for information about HIV or STIs on the internet, and when they last called a telephone helpline for information about HIV or STIs. Next comes a question on using Skype, including video conversations. (Are Sigma wondering about replacing in-person research with Skype calls?) Then, they're asked about the year and month of their birth.

Do you have any comments on this first (and longest) of the surveys?
Why yes, I do 🙂 Despite having a panel that's 20% bisexual, and going into great detail about sex with men, at no point are any questions about sex with women asked… As you can guess from the rest of the site, I'm not saying that's not typical, but I do say that it's not right.
We know, from previous Sigma Research work, that behaviourly bisexual men have the same average number of partners a year – six – as exclusively homosexual ones, and half of them are women. So by not asking any questions about sex with women, this is literally ignoring half the sex life of around one fifth of the panel.

2 Responses to “ Sigma Panel's starter for 13… ” Comments RSS

  1. Ford Hickson 8th April 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Thanks for your interest in the Sigma Panel, Ian. I'm sure you'll be pleased to know the monthly survey now asks about female sex partners in the last month in the same detail as for male partners. We always want our research work to be inclusive and very much value respectful feedback like yours.
    All the best.

  2. Admin 26th April 2011 at 11:00 pm

    Hi Ford, yes, I did very much appreciate the additions to the April (i.e. what happened in March) survey.

    At some point Real Soon Now, I will post something more about it…

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