Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (GBM) often experience significant health disparities that may act as barriers to needed health services. As part of their CITF-funded research, Dr. Daniel Grace from the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Dr. Nathan Lachowsky from the University of Victoria, along with colleagues from the ongoing Engage study, sought to better understand the impacts of COVID-19 on GBM living in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Preliminary results, presented in poster format and upcoming oral presentations, suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to changes in the sexual behavior of many GBM, as well as significant healthcare access disruptions. 

In this preliminary analysis titled The impact of COVID-19 on sexual behaviour, PrEP use, and healthcare access among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men in Canada: Preliminary Findings from Engage-COVID-19”, presented at the Canadian Association for HIV Research (CAHR) conference, Grace, Lachowsky and colleagues describe COVID-19-testing patterns and results across Canada’s three largest urban centers (Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal). This analysis describes changes in GBM’s sexual activities between the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic (March 2020 – May 2020) when compared with before March 2020. The authors provide an overview of how COVID-19 has impacted the sexual behaviours, HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) use, and healthcare access of GBM. Between September 2020 and March 2021, 1161 participants were recruited in the three cities.

 Key Points:

  • Participants reported a decrease in behaviour that may lead to COVID-19 exposure (e.g., reduced in-person sex with new casual partners (68.2%), reduced engaging in group sex play (69.5%), and a reduction in meeting men outside their household for sex (72.9%)).
  • The results indicate changes in participants’ use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), including stopping or changing to ‘on-demand’ use.
  • Preliminary analysis points to higher COVID-19 testing and positive diagnoses in the Montreal and Toronto Engage sample as compared to the Vancouver sample. Of those tested, 43 (7.9%) reported a positive test result. 9.4% in Montreal (32/340), 8% in Toronto (9/113), 2.2% in Vancouver (2/90).
  • Among GBM living with HIV, 6.4% reported that COVID-19 negatively impacted access to HIV care.
  • Approximately one third (32.8%) of participants reported avoiding health services due to concerns about COVID-19 exposure.

The overall results indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. Many have reduced in-person sexual behaviours that may increase the risk for COVID-19 exposure. Concerningly, many have also avoided accessing health services for fear of COVID-19 exposure. Grace and colleagues are continuing to examine these trends quantitatively and qualitatively overtime.

The team will be sharing updated findings as oral presentations at the upcoming Annual Conference of The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS) and the Summit organized by the Community-Based Research Centre. Ongoing analyses are longitudinally exploring changes across GBM’s lives throughout subsequent waves of COVID-19.

For more information please see: https://www.engage-men.ca/engage-covid-19/.

Grace D, Skakoon-Sparling S, Lachowsky N, Moore D,  Jollimore J, Grey C, Brennan DJ, Tan DHS, Gilbert M, Sang J, Gaspar M, Perez-Brumer A, Lambert G, Noor SW, Ferlatte O, Salway T, Burchell A,  Hart TA,  Cox J. The impact of COVID-19 on sexual behaviour, PrEP use, and healthcare access among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men in Canada: Preliminary Findings from Engage-COVID-19. Poster at the Canadian Association for HIV Research (CAHR) conference, May 5-7, 2021