Male-to-Male-Sex in the Asia Pacific Region: Politics, Polemics and Pragmatics

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Despite evidence establishing male-to-male sex as one driver of HIV transmission in the Asia-Pacific region, few interventions focus on prevention, treatment, care and support for this population. It is estimated by many groups that targeted prevention in the region reach less than 8% of men who have sex with men although up to 1/3 of all HIV cases in the Asia Pacific region are transmitted via sex between males.

Historically, little epidemiological or social research has been conducted with these populations. What research has been conducted has focussed on specific and highly visible sub-populations such as male sex workers or sexual health clinic attendees. This has created a cycle of silence and neglect resulting in low testing rates, poor understandings of transmission dynamics and political marginalisation of men who have sex with men. Recently that has been a marked increase in attention being paid to these populations in research and activism. The rollout of funding for research and interventions with men who have sex with men in the region is creating new challenges and dilemmas for funding agencies, researchers, non-government organisations and activists. These include a tendency to apply global categories of sexual identity to complex sexual cultures, tensions between ‘traditional’ and ‘western’ understandings of gender and sexuality, a focus on behavioural constructs of risk that ignore or occlude relational and cultural factors, and pressure to render local practices in a way that reflects global funding priorities.

This paper examines issues around the globalisation of research into male to male sexual populations. We reflect on our current research and capacity development practices in the region and the strategies that we employ to remain cognisant of the socio-political dimension of these. We illustrate the process of collaborative research and the tensions it brings through a project conducted in Indonesia and Thailand.


Keywords: Sexuality, HIV, AIDS, Development
Stream: Sociology, Geography
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Dr. Jeffrey W. Grierson

Senior Research Fellow, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University
Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Dr Jeffrey Grierson is the Senior Research Fellow, Living with HIV Program, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University. He is responsible for a suite of projects funded by the Australian Government addressing the psycho-social context of people living with HIV (PLWHA) in Australia. He is currently Principal Investigator on a number of projects with people living with HIV/AIDS, including the sixth Australian HIV Futures Survey. His research with HIV positive populations in Australia, India and Southern African acknowledges the importance of HIV positive voices in all aspects of the research process. Jeffrey also conducts research addressing issues of sexuality and community engagement in Southern Africa, South East Asia and the Pacific. In 2007 he was awarded the inaugural Charles La Trobe Fellowship for research into Male to Male Sexual Practices in the Asia Pacific Region. He is also the chair of the Victorian AIDS Council Research and Ethics Committee and a board member of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations.

Prof. Marian Pitts

Director, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University
Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Professor Marian Pitts is the Director of the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University Melbourne, Australia. Marian has previously held appointments in Zimbabwe, the USA and the UK and has worked in the area of HIV/AIDS and STIs. She has published numerous articles in key journals in her field and is the author of The Psychology of Preventive Health (1996) and co-editor of The Psychology of Health (1998), and, with Anthony Smith, Researching the Margins (2007). Since 2000 as Director of the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society (ARCSHS) at La Trobe University, Professor Pitts has been responsible for building and directing a multi-disciplinary team of 40 staff with qualifications and expertise in psychology, anthropology, sociology, public health, health promotion, methodology, epidemiology, education, women’s health, consumer advocacy and health policy.
Since 2000 Professor Pitts has been invited to provide advice and expertise to State and Federal Ministerial committees related to sexual health and STIs, to the World Health Organisation in the areas of sex and sexual health, to the Ford Foundation and the New Zealand Ministry of Health. In 2005 she was Appointed Member of the NHMRC Discipline Panel, and was more recently appointed to the Federal HIV/AIDS and STI Subcommittee of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on AIDS, Sexual Health and Hepatitis. Between 2001 and 2006 Professor Pitts was a Member of Ministerial Advisory Committees on Sexual Health at State and National Level, and in 2006 was appointed to the Australian Research Council Panel of Experts.

Dr. Stephen McNally

Research Fellow, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University
Melbourne, VIC, Australia


Murray Couch

Senior Research Fellow, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University
Melbourne, VIC, Australia


Ref: I08P0862