Q. How can I help?
A. The best way to help is by joining Flux, and sharing your story with us. We need as many men as possible to help us out over the next few years. Simply follow the link to enrol in the study, it’s that simple! You can also ‘Like’ the Flux Page on Facebook, or click ‘Share’ on any of the Flux posts that you think might be of interest to your friends. Feel free to join the conversation on the Flux Page on Facebook, as well. It’s another great way to tell us what you think about these issues, and connect with others that are interested.
Q. I’m not really gay – Is this survey relevant to me?
A. This survey is for gay or bisexual men, or any man who has had sex with another man in the last year, regardless of how he identifies himself. We are interested in the experiences of any men who fit in this category.
Q. Why do you need me to encourage my friends to participate?
A. For a couple of reasons, actually. The first reason is that we need as many gay and bisexual men as possible to join Flux, so that we can be sure we’re hearing the real story from our communities. Another reason is that we are interested in how you and your friends share information about drugs and drug use, and why some of your friends might use drugs and others don’t. Without hearing from your friends about what THEY think and do, we wouldn’t be able to understand how it might play a part in how YOU think about these issues
Q. What if a question doesn’t apply to me?
A. Simply answer the best you can, or choose the answer closest to what’s accurate for you. We do our best to make sure you only see questions that apply to you, but we can’t always know for sure. But the more questions you answer, the better we understand your story… so answer everything you can that are as close to your situation as possible.
Q. I don’t use drugs – is this survey relevant to me?
A. Yes. This survey is about attitudes towards drugs, regardless of whether or not you currently use them, or ever have used them. What you think about drug use and where you gained the information to form those opinions and behaviours is our focus. Non-drug users are equally important for this survey as current drug users are.
Q. I’ve never had any problems using drugs – is this survey relevant to me?
A. Yes. This survey is about attitudes towards drugs, regardless of whether you’ve ever used drugs or had any dependency issues or negative experiences. Men who don’t use drugs, men who manage their drug use, or men who have experienced any issues or events related to their drug use are all very important parts of the story we are trying to discover.
Q. What do mean by ‘link my answers to other health agencies’?
A. What this means is that we will confidentially match up your answers to what is already available in public health databases. Death registries, notifiable disease registries, and emergency registries all fall under these categories. For instance, in the unlikely event that something serious happened to you (such as an accident or illness resulting in your death) during the course of your participation with the study… you’re giving us permission to ‘ask what happened.’ These are confidential matches, and no personal information or identification would be revealed to anyone about you individually.
Q. Why are there so many questions?
A. The short answer is “So we are sure we understand what you tell us”. The longer answer is this: A survey is different from a poll, which may have been what you were expecting.
Increasingly we’re all getting used to answering snap polls online where we just answer one or two questions, make a quick comparison, or vote for a simple option. These sorts of polls are often just for entertainment, or used to collect a simple result for marketing purposes, and are almost useless in saying anything really useful because we don’t have the rest of the story — there’s no context.
But we have different concerns: Is the answer to the question affected by the person’s age? Their sex? Where they live? If so, the answer is meaningless without that information.
The issues we deal with in our community surveys are often quite complex, so we need to know more about you to give us the proper context. If we ask gay men about their sexual health knowledge, does the extent to which they participate in the gay community change their answers? How much do their sexual preferences matter when they make decisions about the kind of sex they have and with whom?
As you can see, context makes a big difference, and if we’re going to do the research at all, then we have to ask the correct number and correct kinds of questions. We always try to keep this down to as few as possible — after all, we don’t want you to give up and drop out!
Q. Why are you asking the same questions as before? Or asking them more than once?
A. Sometimes we are, and sometimes we’re not. We often have to ask questions about an issue from more than one angle. For example, if we ask about condom use during sex, the reality is that as gay men we often make very different choices about using condoms depending on who we are having sex with (a boyfriend, a fuck buddy, or an anonymous guy in a sauna) or based on the type of sex we’re having.
Condom use can also vary depending on what we know about that person’s HIV status, or a range of other factors.
If a researcher wants to understand the truth, we have to ask what appears to be virtually the same question several times but each time accounting for a slightly different scenario. So the questions may seem repetitive, but they are different, and it would be impossible to understand what gay men are doing and why they are doing it without them.
Q. Didn’t you ask me these same questions last year?
A. This is a variation of the question above, and the answer is, “Yes, we did”.
Many studies need to be able to monitor changes among gay men over some period of time, so we need to ask exactly the same questions each time you participate. If we didn’t, we couldn’t compare those answers to see what has changed.
Also, there are some things that have to be asked every time because they’re fundamental to how we all think about the issues (e.g. HIV status, relationships, sexuality, and whether we always use condoms or not). If we didn’t ask those questions in every survey then we wouldn’t be able to compare the answers in a meaningful way with other information we’ve gathered, or demonstrate that we asked the right questions of the right people for that issue.
Q. I’m concerned about some of my answers, because they seem ‘out of context’ to my personal/special/unique situation… should I be?
A. Maybe you’re in a monogamous relationship, or you have an agreement with your partner about specific aspects of your life. Maybe you’re HIV-positive /HIV-negative and you’ve made certain choices that suit your particular circumstances.
Whatever the reason, making sure we get that interpretation right is precisely why we have to ask a lot of other questions in each survey, so we can account for these sorts of things.
Proper, responsible research will never look at the answers on a single question, but at a range of factors and how they affect each other. This is why some of the questions that seem repetitive (like your HIV status or whether or not you’re in a relationship) are asked in each survey you might see — your answers are put into context using those types of questions.
Q. This is an issue that I disagree with/don’t like/disapprove of. Should you even be asking people about this?
A. In a recent survey, we asked men about circumcision status. Some guys felt strongly that this was an issue that shouldn’t have been on the survey. They felt it would appear that maybe we were endorsing the practice, or that the issue was offensive or irrelevant and didn’t warrant the interest or attention it would get.
However, this attitude assumes that we all have the same information or opinion, when the reality is that if we don’t ask the questions and collect the information, it’s simply not possible to argue any side of the issue. This is true for sexual behaviour and drug using behaviour, as well… whether you participate in those things or not.
Our research is not about being on one side of an issue or another. We are looking for the facts, so we can understand the issue properly and decide what (if anything) can or needs to be done about it. Having clear evidence that most gay men are opposed to a particular issue is equally as important as finding out they agree with something.
Q. Why do you want to research gay or bisexual men specifically?
A. The Flux study, along with most other research (regardless of the focus on gay men or not), helps increase our understanding into the lives of people, their health, and their social and personal circumstances. This helps identify ways to improve their situation. Studies based on the gay community (such as the Flux study) are conducted to help us understand gay and bisexual men’s circumstances and what it means to their health and well-being.
We are looking at aspects of the health of gay and bisexual men because we believe this matters. People are not all the same – and that’s a good thing. But to understand the differences, we need good research. Indeed, there has been growing evidence over many decades that gay and bisexual men do experience some things differently. The obvious one is HIV – in Australia gay men have much higher rates of HIV than any other group in the country. It’s also been the case that gay and bisexual men experience much higher rates of discrimination and stigma, and even emotional and physical abuse and assault, than does the general population.
We established the Flux study because there has been evidence for some time that gay and bisexual men experience some particular issues around drug use. They use most drugs at much higher rates than do other groups in Australia. But what is unknown is whether this is a problem for most of us in the gay community. How do most gay men feel about it? Do many gay and bisexual men have any problems due to having used drugs? Do some gay and bisexual men find using drugs sometimes helpful, and why? What about mental health and support – are they also issues? Australia’s national drugs policies specifically state that gay and bisexual men are a priority population for health interventions in relation to the use of certain drugs. Flux was funded to help figure out the best way to provide services that are suitable to address issues such as this within the gay community.
The information we collect through Flux will be provided directly by gay and bi men themselves, rather than through people’s assumptions and stereotypes. And it will be used to help keep gay and bi men safe, whether they use drugs, try to stay safe during sex, are suffering from depression, or whatever it might be.
Q. How do I know that this research is being conducted responsibly, and in ways that are useful and appropriate for my community?
A. That’s simple: you can check to see who is sponsoring the research, or whether it’s being done in association with a community organisation you recognise and respect.
You can also check and see if ACON’s own Ethics Committee has reviewed the research project. Ethics approval for much of the community research passes through their hands, providing a valuable source of information for you.
Q. What is the background for studies like this? How did you get the knowledge upon which you’re building this research?
A. In other countries the HIV response has often been based on simplistic and moralistic beliefs about sex and disease, but our response has always been reflective of what we’ve known to be the case among gay men. By asking a lot of detailed, consistent, frequent, and issue-related questions in our research, along with demographic and other contextual information that gives us a clear picture we can use to inform our knowledge and action. In short, we get it from doing surveys!
Australia uses this approach to better effect than almost any other country. For example, the US emphasis on sexual abstinence and fidelity as an HIV prevention strategy was not taken up here because we knew it didn’t fit with most gay men’s beliefs and wasn’t actually relevant to HIV prevention.
Australian sexual health work among gay men has been of very high quality and has shown proven results. For this to continue to be the case we need to maintain our commitment to the accuracy of the information we collect, and see to it that we collect it within our own communities. Most Australian gay men have recognised this and participated generously in our research for over two decades.
In return, researchers such as myself do our best to ensure the surveys we conduct are as easy and efficient as possible and that any research we invite you to help us with will always be of direct benefit to the community.