Sexual mixing patterns among social networks of HIV-positive and HIV-negative Beijing men who have sex with men: a multilevel comparison using roundtable network mapping.

Published: March 10, 2011

Abstract

Men who have sex with men (MSM) are of immediate concern in China’s HIV epidemic. In 2008, approximately 2.5-6.5% of China’s eight million MSM were HIV positive, while MSM represented 11% of all new HIV cases. Two factors that will in-part determine HIV-transmission dynamics among MSM, are sexual mixing patterns and the social networks which shape them. Sexual mixing patterns and social networks of Chinese MSM, however, remain poorly understood with little refined data available. One reason is that stigma discourages disclosure of names and identifiers to researchers. Using an alternative network-mapping approach, matched case-control design, and snowball sampling, this pilot study sought to compare characteristics of social networks of HIV-positive and HIV-negative Beijing MSM at the individual, dyad, and network levels. First, HIV-negative MSM controls were matched to HIV-positive MSM cases based on age, education, residency, and ethnicity. Then, each case or control and their MSM social network convened at a specific time and location with study investigators. Venues included health clinics, karaoke clubs, brothels, and community centers. Then, using arbitrarily assigned numbers in lieu of actual names, all participants simultaneously completed self-administered surveys regarding their sexual relationships with other participants of the same social network. These new findings indicate that cross-generational sex (anal or oral sex between men with ≥10 years age difference) was more prevalent among social networks of HIV-positive MSM, and was due to older age structure of the social network, rather than behavioral differences in sex-partner selection. Members of social networks of HIV-positive MSM were also less likely to have ever disclosed their MSM identity to non-MSM. Future studies should partner with MSM advocacy groups to explore behavioral and structural interventions as possible means of reducing the cross-generational sex and sexual identity-development issues elevating HIV risk for young Chinese MSM.

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