The number of people acquiring HIV in the UK continues to rise year on year, particularly for men who have sex with men (MSM). It has been suggested that this is to a large extent driven by drugs or “chemsex”. The Gay Men’s Sex Survey recently asked gay men living with diagnosed HIV, “How large a part do you think alcohol played in your acquiring HIV?” They were asked a similarly worded question about recreational and illicit drugs.

Whereas 31% said that alcohol played a part in their HIV infection, 23% thought other drugs played a part. This suggests that alcohol plays as big a role as drugs or ‘chemsex’ in men acquiring HIV. And more than half of men (58%) said that neither drugs nor alcohol played a role in them becoming HIV positive.

This suggests that the issue is more complex than just being driven by drug use. This needs to be reflected in any future HIV prevention campaigns.

The survey also showed that one of the most important ways which gay men with HIV reduce risks during sex is to know their current viral load (72%). Having a sustained non-detectable viral load significantly reduces the risk on onward transmission of HIV. Many more men mentioned this than using condoms (35%). Men completing the survey also reduced risks by using lubricant for intercourse, having regular sexual health check-ups and getting infections treated, talking about HIV and STIs with potential sex partners and avoiding anal sex altogether.