Consistent decline in partner numbers in US gay men in last decade, but no change in condom use

Published: May 25, 2012

Data from two national sex surveys in the United States show that gay and bisexual men (men who have sex with men, MSM) reported significantly fewer sexual partners in the previous year in a survey conducted between 2006 and 2010 than they did in one conducted in 2002. This decline was consistent across most ethnicities and age groups, but was particularly marked, and statistically significant, in younger men aged under 24.

In contrast, the proportion who reported having condomless anal sex at least once in the previous year did not change between surveys. In the minority of men who also had sex with women, condom use fell markedly, but on the other hand the proportion of MSM who also had sex with women fell too.  

The proportion of men who tested for HIV or for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the last year did not change, although the proportion who had never tested for HIV fell.

The survey

The data come from the last two National Surveys of Family Growth (NSFGs). The NSFG is a survey of 15 to 44-year-olds; participants are contacted at random by phone but due to lower contact/response rates, people under 24, black people and Hispanic people are ‘oversampled’, i.e. a higher proportion are initially contacted than are in the general population.

NSFGs used to be conducted every three to seven years, but in 2006 a decision was taken to conduct interviews (by voice-assisted automated computer interview) continuously. This study therefore compared figures from interviews conducted in 2002 with ones conducted in 2006 to 2010.

NSFG interviewed 4928 and 10403 men in 2002 and 2006 to 2010, respectively. Of these, 197 and 272 reported having a male sexual partner in the last year – 2.7 and 2.1% respectively (this difference was not statistically significant, p = 0.1).

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