If you build it will they come? Addressing social isolation within a technology-based HIV intervention for young black men who have sex with men.

Published: March 12, 2014

 Abstract

 
The rate of HIV infections among young black men who have sex with men (YBMSM) continues to rise at an alarming pace. YBMSM are particularly vulnerable to social isolation and a lack of social support due to experiences with racism and homophobia, which may have implications for sexual risk behaviors. The purpose of this study was to explore perceptions of social isolation and sense of community among YBMSM, the need for and receptivity to social networking features designed to reduce social isolation and build community within an Internet- and mobile phone-based primary and secondary HIV prevention intervention for YBMSM and to identify strategies to develop these features. Focus groups were conducted with 22 YBMSM aged 20-30 years at three sites in North Carolina. Data from the focus groups were thematically analyzed using NVivo. Feelings of social isolation and lack of a sense of community were strongly endorsed by participants with homophobia, lack of opportunities for social engagement, and a focus on sex rather than friendship in interpersonal relationships with other YBMSM cited as contributing factors. Participants were receptive to a social networking intervention designed to reduce social isolation and build community. Recommendations offered by participants to increase acceptability and usability of such features included: availability of information about healthy relationships, the ability to connect with other YBMSM and health care providers, and ensuring the site had ongoing facilitation by the study team as well as monitoring for inappropriate content. The development of a social networking feature of an HIV prevention intervention may present an opportunity to reduce social isolation, build community, and reduce risky sexual behaviors among YBMSM. The findings from this study are being used to inform the development of a social networking feature for an existing Internet- and mobile phone-based primary and secondary HIV prevention intervention for YBMSM.
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