The Resonance Project

What’s the Buzz? Gay Men and New HIV Information 

Over the past few years, a lot of new information has emerged about HIV prevention, risk and transmission. And boy, is it complex and technical!

Treatment and undetectable viral load.

Acute infection and high viral load.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

Seroadaptive behaviours such as serosorting and seropositioning.

Functional and sterilizing cures.

New testing technologies like rapid testing, home-based testing, and p24 antigen tests.

Are we still speaking English?

As gay guys, what have we been hearing about all of this, if anything? Has our understanding of (or confusion about) this new, complex, and technical information had any influence on our decisions about the kinds of sex we have? The Resonance Project is working to find out.

What is the Resonance Project?

The Resonance Project is a community-based research project. Most of us working on this project are gay men ourselves. The project started in 2013 and will run for three years, until March 2016. It is funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR). We want to understand what gay men think about new HIV information and how it affects our lives. We want to know: what’s the buzz on HIV prevention? To do this, we have been talking to gay men and service providers in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. We are asking them:

  • What are gay guys hearing about what’s new in HIV prevention?
  • How are we making sense of that information?
  • How is it changing the way we have sex?

Who is involved?

The Resonance Project is a collaboration between four national HIV organizations, three gay men’s health organizations, and the University of Windsor. The four national organizations are CATIE (who is coordinating the project), the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS), the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) and the Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development (ICAD). The three gay men’s health organizations are Health Initiative for Men (or HIM) in Vancouver, RÉZO in Montreal, and the Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance in Toronto. The two principal investigators for the project are Dr. Barry Adam from the University of Windsor and Ed Jackson from CATIE. There are two part-time research staff: San Patten from Halifax and Marc-André LeBlanc from Gatineau.

What is the rationale?

In the last few years, there has been a lot of new information about HIV risk and prevention. So much so that the HIV prevention landscape has arguably changed more in the last 3-5 years than it did in the previous 25 years. We want to know if any of this new information is resonating with gay men, and if so, how?

The project focuses on gay men for two reasons.

  • First, gay men still account for the largest number of new HIV infections in Canada, and the largest group of people living with HIV. We are the group most at risk in most parts of the country.
  • Second, gay men tend to be early adopters of new information, new technologies, and new trends. Let’s be honest: we often SET new trends that are then taken up by others. So if anyone is tracking on all this new HIV information, trying to make sense of it, and incorporating it in their decisions about sex and risk, it’s likely to be gay men.

To do the best job possible in HIV prevention and promoting the sexual health of gay men, we must ground our work in the real context of our lives today. That’s where we want to start—not by saying “this is what gay men need to know”, but by asking “what are gay men hearing? And what are they doing with the information?” In other words, what resonates for us?

The Concept of ‘Resonance’

We use ‘resonance’ as a guiding concept in this project. For us, it refers to the waves of discourse and resulting action that is created by new biomedical information about HIV. These waves run through the community wisdom and individual decision making of gay men. We know that risk reduction strategies will create waves only if they make sense in the sexual lives of gay men.

Definitions of ‘Resonance’

  • In physics: the tendency of energy to oscillate at a greater amplitude at some frequencies than at others
  • In acoustics: intensification and prolongation of sound, especially a musical tone, produced by sympathetic vibration
  • In culture: richness or significance, especially in evoking an association or a strong emotion

What do we plan to do in this project?

The first part of this project is talking to guys. We have talked to over 100 gay men and service providers in Vancouver, Toronto and Montréal through discussion groups and interviews.

We are now going over what the guys told us, compiling all that information and analyzing it to see what themes and topics came out of those discussions.

At the next stage, we will use what we learned from participants to develop new resources for gay men—resources that promote sexual health in a way that resonates with gay men. Then we will pilot test these new resources with guys in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. All of this should help organizations that promote sexual health among gay men.

What kind of guys have we been talking to?

We’ve talked to all kinds of guys.

  • Gay, bisexual, queer, two-spirited and other men who have sex with men
  • Guys from different age groups
  • Guys from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds
  • Guys who are HIV-negative and HIV-positive
  • Guys who are single, dating or in long-term relationships

Talking to a whole range of different guys helps us understand how some of us think compared to others. We don’t assume that all gay men have the same relationship to sex, risk, HIV, intimacy, pleasure… We want to know what we have in common but also how we differ.

How can you get more information?

We will disseminate more information as it becomes available through the various project partners, including at

–Marc-André LeBlanc

This article first appeared on, Canada's Online HIV Magazine

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