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HONG KONG - Jan 31, 2003

A landmark study of the sexual behavior of men in Hong Kong gay saunas has been conducted by researchers in 15 of Hong Kong's 22 exclusively gay saunas located on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon.

Use of condoms by sauna users appears to be higher than expected. Sex in saunas in Hong Kong is illegal (private saunas are considered to be public places), but in practice saunas enjoy relative freedom from police harassment and are also places amenable to AIDS education outreach and condom distribution.

Six hundred men were interviewed, with ages ranging from teens to seniors. 87% had never married and 80% reported having men exclusively as their regular partners. This points to a decrease in social pressure for gays to get married. More than 50% reported visiting saunas at least once a week. The majority of men said they visited saunas to find sexual partners, to find friends, and to relax in a gay-friendly environment.

The most popular term used by these men to label themselves was the English word "member" pronounced locally as "mem-ba". Many also felt the rather formal Cantonese term for homosexual, tuhng sing lyun, applied to them. The former communist term for comrade, tongzhi, and "gay" were also popular self-identifiers.

Encouragingly, the top reported physical activities at saunas are considered to be insignificant in regards to HIV transmission: caressing, masturbation, hugging, oral sex and kissing. However, researchers did estimate that roughly 40% of the men include anal sex in their regular sexual repertoire. Nearly 70% reported that they regularly used condoms for anal sex.

The research was conducted under the auspices of AIDS Concern, an NGO providing support services for people with HIV/AIDS and outreach prevention programmes for men who have sex with men, cross-border travelers, users of the local sex industry, and youth at risk. They are funded through their our own fundraising efforts, public donations, grants and project money from the Hong Kong Government's AIDS Trust Fund.

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