Gay Couples Study

We’ve moved!

The Gay Couples Study has relocated to the Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality at San Francisco State University. Our new offices are at 835 Market Street, Suite 517 in the Westfield Centre, which is at the intersection of Powell and Market Streets in San Francisco. Please note that our telephone number has not changed.

What is the Gay Couples Study?

The UCSF Gay Couples Study seeks to identify and examine relationship dynamics in gay and bisexual male couples and explore how those dynamics may affect sexual risk behaviors with both primary and non-primary partners. Relationship dynamics include issues such as communication, power dynamics, and agreements around sex inside and outside of the relationship. Other objectives include exploring factors associated with how, why, and when couples make agreements around sex, examining the various types and styles of those agreements, and describing how they differ in relation to couple serostatus.

The UCSF Gay Couples Study is a single-site study conducted in four phases. In the first phase, the Qualitative Phase, 40 couples participated in face-to-face, in-depth, semi-structured interviews. Once analyzed, those interviews revealed common themes, many of which were integrated into a unique and original survey instrument, the Sexual Agreement Quality Scale. This scale, coupled with other psychological and behavioral measurements, was combined into one survey and pilot-tested with 200 couples during the second phase, the Pilot Phase. In the next phase, the Cross-Sectional Phase, 450 couples were recruited to take the survey. Using a larger pool of participants, various themes and research questions within the survey were explored in greater detail.

For the final phase, the Longitudinal Phase, 200 additional couples were recruited and all 650 couples will be followed over a three year period to monitor how and when their relationships and agreements change over time. The Longitudinal Phase includes additional qualitative interviews examining agreement change over time as well as the impact of language, culture, and ethnicity for monolingual Spanish-speakers.

All couples participating in the study will be interviewed six times over three years. The first follow-up interview occurs one year after Baseline. The four remaining follow-up interviews occur every six months thereafter for the last two years. Baseline interviews finished February 15, 2007.

Why is this study important?

Previous research shows that gay and bisexual men in relationships engage in unprotected anal intercourse with their primary partners at substantially higher rates as compared to single men. A desire for more intimacy in the relationship may contribute to couples engaging in unprotected sex with each other. Additionally, studies differentiating relationships by partner serostatus have found that men with seroconcordant partners report significantly higher rates of unprotected anal intercourse than men with serodiscordant partners. Whether these behaviors are ‘risky’ depends on many factors and needs to be further explored.

With high rates of seroconversion among gay male couples, and primary partners an often unrecognized and under-studied source of new HIV infections, studying gay and bisexual male couples is an important next step in HIV research and prevention.

What have we discovered so far?

Initial findings revealed during the Qualitative Phase include some of the motivations for developing and maintaining agreements around sex, such as to support stronger, healthier, and more satisfying relationships and identities; to emphasis trust, safety, love, and commitment; and, to a lesser extent, to avoid HIV and STD infection.

Agreement maintenance was difficult for some couples, as communication difficulties, as well as substance use, interfered with the explicitness and parity of the agreement, discrepancies, and compliance. Some couples changed their agreements as the needs of and situations in their relationships changed. In many agreements, specific sex behaviors were explicitly stated as a way of protecting partners from HIV and STDs. When behaviors were not explicitly identified, however, safety was usually assumed. Less explicit agreements tended to breakdown more frequently than explicit agreements and lead to opportunities for unsafe sex.

Additional findings include a wide range of relationship styles and sexual agreements among couples and that there are many factors related to the perception of risk and actual sexual behavior. Some couples reported being in long-term relationships and a majority lived together. Agreements about outside partners varied widely. Some couples described detailed and explicit agreements that were communicated directly to their partner, while others said their agreements were unspoken and implicitly understood.

Who are we?

Meet the Gay Couples Study staff.

Contact us

The UCSF Gay Couples Study
San Francisco State University
Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality
835 Market Street, Suite 517
San Francisco, CA 94103

Phone: 1-888-688-1777

Last modified: October 8, 2013