MASS homophobia from the 1980s and the introduction of the controversial Section 28 clause are to blame for reluctance in older gay men to be tested for HIV, according to new research.

Scientists from Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) and the University of Glasgow also found that younger men without a university degree were less likely to test for the virus and where they live influenced non-testing among both older and younger men, especially in Wales and the Republic of Ireland.

The research, funded by GCU, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) and NHS Lothian, analysed data from 2436 men living in the Celtic nations of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland who use same-sex websites and apps to meet other men.

They aimed to find out if age was a factor in the frequency of HIV testing in these nations.

Around 3% of the UK’s population identify as gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, but they still bear the greatest burden of HIV, with 54% of all new diagnoses among this group. Evidence shows that 37% of HIV-positive men who have sex with men in Scotland are currently undiagnosed.

The team, led by Dr Jamie Frankis from GCU, analysed data collected in 2016 through a large-scale study and their findings have been published in the high-profile British Medical Journal – Sexually Transmitted Infections.

Frankis, reader in Sexual Health Psychology, said mass homophobia from the 80s and the introduction of Section 28, an amendment to the Local Government Act 1988 that banned local authorities and schools from “promoting” homosexuality, could still be damaging the health of the older gay male population.

He said: “Our research showed that stigma was only associated with less recent HIV testing for older men. However, not identifying as gay was related to less HIV testing for men aged 26 and above.

“For older men, it looks like the barriers seem to come up in terms of your own management of sexual identity within the wider culture that you are living in.

“That would speak to the homophobia that was highly present in the 80s at the onset of HIV when gay men, who now are over 45, would have been young and they would have experienced massive homophobia, anti-gay and anti-HIV stigma.

“It is possible that older men are still troubled by the mass homophobia of the 80s and that is affecting their own testing behaviour. They could still be harbouring fears around HIV as a heavily stigmatised infection rather than the HIV of today, which is a highly manageable condition.

“There was also the introduction of the Section 28 clause during that period and of course gay sex was only decriminalised in the 80s in Scotland and Northern Ireland and the 90s in the Republic of Ireland.”

Dalrymple, clinical academic research fellow and sexual health nurse at NHSGGC, said: “The key findings are that there are age-related differences in testing behaviour in men who have sex with men in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and what that means is that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to designing interventions to try to increase HIV testing in men who have sex with men.”

Alastair Rose, SX manager at HIV charity Waverley Care, said: “This research highlights that despite advances in equality, the lived experiences of homophobia, stigma and discrimination experienced

by gay and bisexual men through the 80s continue to impact on the sexual health and wellbeing of older gay and bisexual men. We need to ensure that we provide services that are tailored to meet the needs of this population, reaffirming the changing landscape of HIV treatment and prevention, and destigmatise the sex men have with each other.”