The National Institutes of Health is spending over $600,000 for a study that will follow transwomen and their male partners for a year.
The study, being conducted by the University of Michigan, will use a "couples-based approach" for HIV prevention by talking about "intimacy and trust" and using condoms.
"Transgender (‘trans') women (i.e., individuals with a feminine and/or female gender identity who were assigned male at birth) are among the populations at highest risk for HIV in the United States and worldwide," according to the grant for the project. "One of the most consistently reported contexts for HIV transmission among trans women is within a primary partnership with a non-transgender male."
The researchers say there has been a lack of scientific attention given to the male partners of transwomen.
"Despite the critical importance of primary partnerships for HIV prevention, the vast majority of HIV prevention studies and interventions for trans women have been individually-focused," the grant states. "For the past 10 years we have conducted research to identify intervention targets for reducing HIV transmission among trans women and their male partners using qualitative, survey, and intervention adaptation methodologies."
The project calls its counseling "Couples HIV Intervention Program" or "CHIP." The couples will be studied for over a year.
"We will enroll racially diverse trans women and their male partners and randomize couples to either the CHIP intervention or an enhanced standard of care (SOC) control condition," the grant states. "Couples will be followed quarterly over 12-months."
The project began last month and has cost taxpayers $613,634 so far. Research is set to continue through April 2023.
In a preliminary study, the researchers recruited 56 transgender women and their male partners in bars, nightclubs, and beauty salons. They then held counseling sessions focused on "issues of intimacy and trust" and condom use.
The researchers asked the couples about "condom self-efficacy" or whether they are confident in their ability to put on a condom, and about gender norms.
After three months and several rounds of counseling, including two couples sessions and one individual session, those who did not drop out of the sessions were more likely to use condoms, and the transwomen in the sessions were more likely to have fewer casual sex partners.
"In previous research, primary male partners of transgender women also reported engaging in sexual behavior with cisgender women and men, and this group may thus reside at a crossroad for HIV transmission across diverse populations," the researchers noted.