Calling All Vancouver Gays: Get Tested for Science… and $!

Before I lose your attention to a “Featured Sports Stud” article with some hunk taking his shirt off I’m gonna highlight what you need to know before you choose to skip this less than “sexy” but extremely important science and health-related story about Vancouver’s Momentum Health Study.

1. Vancouver is running an important and contemporary gay male health study that needs your support to effectively represent our population.

2. You get your full STI panel testing done completely free by a fully-trained and (very nice!) nurse who will have your results ready for you in about a week.

3. You straight up get paid (remunerated) $30 with the possibility of earning $60 more… no joke.

Acknowledging it’s a bit gauche to go so quickly to the money angle while pushing aside the altruism of supporting gay research, I’ve found over the last 3 weeks of talking up this study to friends that the prospect of making money WHILE doing our mandatory 3-4 month STI check-in is what gets most boys’ ears perked so why not lead with a winner, right?

This study is important, it’s relevant, it not only informs researchers about the current state of health and awareness of STIs/STDs and the like but it will also definitely teach you a thing or two in the process. So, please click through and read about how you can easily take part in this study and not only do your part to stay on top of your health but contribute to others at the same time.

As a gay male who use to work as a researcher in the field of gay male health, I can tell you that accurate, modern and most importantly empirically-established studies in this field are way too few and far between. Years ago I had the privilege of working on a gay male sex study that had a hard and honest look at the use of condoms within our slice of society: it was so revolutionary because the previous work and questionnaires on this type of “gay” topic was consumed with prejudicial wording and dated concepts of monogamy and shamed drug use. While I’m hardly advocating the opposite, what that study and more importantly this Momentum Health Study utilizes is a language created with the help of actual younger gay males who know what “real life” is like. It’s not the verbiage of stuffy hetero white guys who think they “had a gay once” in one of their classes: this stuff knows what to ask and how to ask it.

Now, you might ask: Why the hell should I care about gay research. Because, it helps you. It helps you by accurately representing the current state of gay men: their knowledge on the topic of sexual health, their belief system surrounding it and their health. How many times have you heard it reported on the news that gay men “never get tested because they’re too afraid of the answer” and thought “F that noise! I get tested more regularly than any straight person I know”. Or, on the other end, how many times have you heard club kids laughing about all the party favours they made their way through last night and wished your more tame approach was represented in how our guys are perceived. Well, here’s your chance.

Momentum is a health study being led by SFU, UBC, UVic and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (partnered between the Positive Living Society, the Health Initiative for Men and YouthCO) into “men who have sex with men” in the Greater Vancouver region. Specifically their attitudes, beliefs and behaviours regarding the HIV epidemic over time as access to ART (antiretroviral therapy) expands. This study looks at all gay men no matter their current status as it hopes to learn how both HIV-negative and HIV-positive men live and lead their sexual lives. The participants (YOU!) are comprised of people who identify their gender as males (yes, that includes Female to Male); are over 16-years old; and, have had sex with a man in the last 6 months. Basically, they’re casting a wide net to make sure that every guy and every lifetsyle is included to most accurately represent gay men in Vancouver.

The study takes place in their very comfortable, discreet office space in Suite 505 of 1200 Burrard Street (right on Davie) Tuesday-Thursday 11am-7pm and Friday-Saturday 9am-5pm to ensure that even the weirdest of work schedules can be accommodated to. What I’d argue the best part about this study is that you call ahead (604-558-2017) or email ([email protected]) and warn them you’re coming in to ensure they’ll have a spot ready for you so there’s no more of this showing up at a clinic and hanging out for 2-3 hours waiting for the people who got there 4 minutes before you to finish off. What you should expect when you get there is a small and sweet staff who have nothing but smiles and answers for you as they guide you through the 1.5 hour process. There’s a clear and important consent form to read and sign before they have you answering a computer-based questionnaire that takes about 45 minutes to get through: this is the important stuff.

Not only are you teaching the study what you know and believe about HIV and STIs but it also gives you a moment to reflect on your last 6-months of possible sexual practices, attitudes, drug contact and health. There is ZERO judgment involved in this study. First off, everything you type into the computer is 100% anonymous, second the test- as previously mentioned- is co-written by gay males like us who know that the occasionally dalliance into non-legal substances occur and that one partner for life isn’t always the standard though it certainly could be. The study doesn’t make you feel bad about any of your answers but is an important moment to take stalk of your past few months and I definitely appreciated the contemplation. Interestingly, a lot of the questions involved weren’t just “did you use a condom here” or “have you tried this drug” but focused on our thoughts and feelings about HIV itself and those who have it. A friend I referred to this study described the day as akin to “hanging out with friends and having a important conversation about health and sex”. The environment is calm, homey and removed of the over-bearing sterility of a doctor’s office while maintaining the professionalism.

Now, onto the exchange of fluids! Don’t get too excited 😉

When I said before you get the “full panel” done, I meant it! Once you finish with the computer part of the study, you move to a nurse’s office where a professional nurse administers the HIV Rapid Test. I have to admit: I was a virgin to this puppy. I don’t know WHAT it is about the prospect of “sitting and waiting” for an answer that terrifies me so much but I’m typically a draw blood and wait two weeks kind of guy. That said, it was all for science so I stuffed my ridiculous and unfounded fears aside and let the man stab me a lil’. First off, it didn’t hurt which was very nice- no one likes getting pricked. Second, it happened so damn fast that I honestly didn’t even have time to start to worry- it was over before it started.

For those who like the accuracy of the full-vial testing, don’t worry: you get that too if you request it. The only other mandatory part of the testing includes getting blood extracted for Hepatitis C and Syphilis testing- again, relatively painless and important to have done. Not only are the results available within a week but they can also be sent to your primary physician for ease of access if you’d like. On top of all this, they offer to do the Gonorrhea and Chlamydia test as well as an oral, penile and anal swab should you like them. I asked for a “trip around the world” and got the deluxe package- completely, all for free. Hell, they even take and explain to you your blood pressure all while being treated fairly and without judgment by a professional and trained nurse with extensive experience working in the gay community.

While the testing and questionnaire portion is confidential, anyone who’s been tested for HIV in Vancouver knows that it’s a reportable disease which means that like with your typical check-in at your local clinic or doctor, there is a follow up by public health workers should your test come back an unexpected positive. What this is for is to ensure that you and those you’ve been in contact with are aware of this situation and have the proper support and medical attention made available to you. That said, everything you experience and discover through this study is not released in any identifying way whatsoever to the public. So know that while your answers and results support this body of research, your specifics are never publicly linked to you at all.

Oh? Did I forget to mention the remuneration? Well, as a funded research study, Momentum graciously offers a $30 in cash or in raffle vouchers (your choice) honorarium to win big prizes like paid trips the moment you finish your 1.5 or so hour contribution. This is what they call a longitudinal study and they ask (only if you’re willing and you’re allowed to forgo this commitment) you to return for a full retesting every 6 months for 4 years so that proper and longer term results can be derived and a more accurate picture of how we change and act over time is painted. Finally, you’re offered 6 fancy looking laminated cards (or email vouchers) if you choose to take them which they hope you’ll give to your friends (male gendered identifying people over 16 who have had sex in the last six months with at least one man) as this study is revolutionary in its use of Respondent Driven Sampling (RDS) which means its subjects are referred by other subjects. Because of this you need to contact them to find out how to be involved if no one you know is currently involved in this study. If your friends come in and show the card you gave them you yourself get another 10$ per person which means up to $60 more dollars on top of the original $30 honorarium. Don’t tell me that doesn’t sound worth getting tested and contributing to your community…?

In all, I thought the experience was painless, easy, efficient, important and lucrative. I’ve had no problem explaining it to others in the greatest of terms and think it’s something vital for gay men to take part of to not only be active participants in their personal health but in that of all gay men. Click here for the link to their website to contact them and ask how to get involved. Again, this is a subject-referred study so ASK AROUND! Tell your friends about this study, find out if you know someone with those laminated cards, facebook or tweet and feel free to contact the staff at Momentum themselves to find out more information! This study will be around for FIVE YEARS so you certainly have time and it’s growing day-by-day throughout the community. Get on it!

  • md

    are these tests that Canadians would normally have to pay for to have done?

  • Adam

    Md: for the most part no. However we often have to wait hours in free clinics to be seen and not all locations have the rapid available- for a while it was offered by donation ($) but even then not at all locations. So while by and large testing is free in Canada (as far as I know) this is done quickly and by appointment and by experienced nurses who will not judge or balk at any answers from the gay respondents. And that can be a pricesless commodity.