Black and Latino gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) have higher rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) than their White counterparts. Differences in sexual networks have been hypothesized to play an important role in the observed racial/ethnic disparities in risk. However, concerns about the acceptability and feasibility of conducting sociocentric sexual studies have left a lack of data on the structure of sexual networks of MSM. However, if certain established network research procedures are unacceptable among target populations, biases may be introduced.
[Photo: Dr. Katie Biello]
The purpose of this study, led by Dr. Katie Biello, assistant professor of behavioral and social sciences and epidemiology, and faculty member in the Center for Health Equity Research, was to conduct qualitative interviews and brief surveys with sexually active Black, Hispanic/Latino, and White MSM to assess the acceptability and feasibility of potential procedures for a sociocentric sexual network study. Of the procedures currently used in sexual network studies, the researchers found that referring recent sexual partners was generally acceptable, but racial/ethnic differences emerged regarding specific preferences for how to recruit partners. While the majority of Black participants explained that they would not want their name disclosed to sexual partners approached for study participation, most Latino participants preferred having the opportunity to inform referrals themselves about the study prior to researchers contacting them, and White participants favored having researchers disclose their names while recruiting referrals, emphasizing the importance of transparency.
The results of this study have important implications for the conduct of sexual network research in this diverse population. In order to reduce differential rates of research participation, increase scientific validity, and reduce risks of social harm, research studying sexual networks among MSM should be aware of these potential differences, engage communities in study design, and provide participants with a variety of options for recruiting their sexual partners.
This study was published in AIDS Care, Volume 29, Issue 1 (ahead of print).
For more information: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27315021