MEN applying for life assurance will face questions on their sexuality in a shake-up to identify those at risk of contracting HIV.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) wants companies to be able to assess the risk of an applicant contracting the virus without resorting to inappropriate or intrusive questioning.

Both sexes could be asked if they have been intravenous drug users, had surgery or have donated blood outside the UK, or stayed in countries where infection rates are high.

The guidelines said insurers should not ask applicants how many sexual partners they have had, whether they practise safe sex, or if they have had an HIV test. They will still be able to ask if someone has tested positive for HIV, or are awaiting the results of a test.

Richard Walsh, head of health at the ABI, said: "This statement marks a significant step forward for both the industry and our customers.

"The industry wants to offer terms that fairly reflect risk. Customers do not want intrusive or inappropriate questions. Foll-owing this consultation, I am optimistic that we can achieve both of these goals."

The ABI is consulting a range of groups, including the insurance industry, gay and African rights organisations and medical bodies, along with HIV and Aids charity the Terrence Higgins Trust.

The guidelines will apply to people applying for life assurance, critical illness cover, income protection, long-term care and the life assurance element of endowment policies.