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Curtin University
Collaboration for Evidence, Research and Impact in Public Health

CONNECT Study: Social Norms Regarding HIV/STI Risk and Risk Reduction Behaviours among Men Who Have Sex with Men in Australia (2010-2012)

Investigators:

Chief Investigators

  • Dr Iryna Zablotska-Manos (NCHECR, UNSW)
  • Professor John de Wit (NCHSR, UNSW)
  • Dr Graham Brown (WACHPR, Curtin University)
  • Associate Professor Garrett Prestage (NCHECR, UNSW and ARCSHS, La Trobe University)
  • Professor Bruce Maycock (WACHPR, Curtin University)

Associate Investigators

  • Dr Alden Klovdahl (Australian National University)
  • Professor Christopher Fairley (University of Melbourne)

Collaborating Partners

  • Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS), La Trobe University
  • National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research (NCHECR), The University of New South Wales (UNSW)
  • National Centre in HIV Social Research (NCHSR), UNSW
  • Western Australian AIDS Council (WAAC)

Funding

  • National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) ($105,438)

Project Aims and Objectives

Aim of this study is to investigate and inform HIV prevention programs about the role of social norms regarding HIV/STI risk and risk-reduction practices in the communities of gay men and their role in HIV transmission.

The objectives of this study are:

  • To identify the patterns of how gay men connect within networks and assess the association of these patterns with the HIV/STI risk and risk reduction behaviours.
  • To describe the relationship between social norms and the HIV/STI risk and risk reduction behaviours among MSM with differing degrees of connections within the gay community.
  • To compare the patterns of connections, social norms and risk reduction behaviours of the geographically and epidemiologically distinct MSM communities in three Australian states, in order to identify local barriers to effective HIV prevention.

Background

In Australia, recent increases in HIV incidence and risky sexual behaviours among men who have sex with men (MSM), as well as the puzzling differences in the HIV epidemics across the states, are of concern for HIV prevention. Individuals’ behaviours are not independent, and international studies show that social norms play an important role in shaping sexual behaviour. Perception and communication of norms may differ according to whether men are attached to the gay community and how they interact with other men. Perception and communication of norms about HIV/STI risk and risk reduction behaviour have never been studied among gay men in Australia. The study of social and sexual connections between men may contribute to understand how men communicate norms and practices and shape each other’s beliefs and behaviours. It will also help explain the differing behavioural patterns between the states and why increasing efforts in HIV prevention have been unsuccessful in halting risky practices among MSM.

Project Overview

The cross-sectional quantitative study will collect self-reported socio-demographic data, information about sexual identification, partners, social norms regarding specific practices, as well as the prevalence of sexual practices, HIV testing and disclosure, information about the last sexual encounter(s) (up to four). NO testing will be involved. After completing the questionnaire, the respondents will be asked about the size of their personal social/sexual networks, and will be asked to refer members of these networks to also participate in the study.

Participants of the study will be aged 18 years or older; reside in the Perth metropolitan area and have had sex with another man during the preceding 12 months. Peer-referral sampling (respondent-driven sampling) will be used to recruit the target group, A group of initial participants will be recruited and then asked to refer up to three of their peers (friends and/or sexual partners) to participate in the study, using coupons with unique IDs. Referrals will continue until a desired sample size is reached. Data will be collected using self-administered questionnaires on handheld computers with audio support. Trained interviewers will assist to administer questionnaires. The study will be conducted in three locations: Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Data collection in Perth will begin in 2011.

Current Project Status

To date a network mapping exercise has been conducted with representatives from key gay community groups within the Perth metropolitan area. The purpose of mapping these networks is to ascertain the size of the various groups, the different types of groups and their interactions if any.