The Sigma Panel for gay men, bisexual men and other men that have sex with men

Published: February 1, 2011

Duration: December 2010 – March 2012

In December 2010 the Sigma Panel began recruiting a large population of gay men, bisexual men and other men that have sex with men (MSM) in England for a study consisting of 13 monthly online interviews, preceded by an introductory profiling survey. A randomly selected two-thirds of volunteers will be asked monthly about their sexual behaviours and their engagement with HIV prevention interventions (the Cohort arm). The remaining third of the volunteers will be asked to participate in monthly qualitative and quantitative assessments of psycho-social factors associated with sexual risk, HIV health promotion needs and views on health promotion interventions in development. These investigations will have a short turnaround for analysis and output to health promoters developing and delivering sexual health interventions with or for MSM (the Insight arm).

Using these two random sub-samples of men for different research purposes will reduce question burden, allow both stability and flexibility in research question development, and ensure comparability between the two groups. The sample sizes achievable on the internet make this feasible within a relatively small budget. Randomisation will be carried out at the end of the first monthly survey (which all men complete) by means of the survey software.

The Panel’s two arms will seek to describe:
? The level and distribution of risk and precautionary behaviours, how they change at the individual level over a one year period and influences on these behaviours at the level of the individual and the sexual event, including engagement with interventions (the Cohort arm).
? The factors influencing risk and precautionary choices, in particular men’s values and perceptions of the consequences of sexual risk practices and their perceptions of the values of significant others (the Insight arm).
? The factors influencing the feasibility and acceptability of varied intervention types and styles across a range of sub-groups (the Insight arm).

For the Insight arm, not all volunteers will be invited to participate in all investigations. Depending on investigation topic, some purposive sampling from within the arm will occur. In addition, the research team can respond to specific requests from CHAPS Partners for specific themes to be explored or for questions to be asked of men in defined geographic areas or demographic groups (for example, those living in rural areas, or men in monogamous relationship). A sub-set of men within the Insight arm will also be invited to participate in a quslitative investigation that explores the motivations behind men’s choices of risk-taking and risk-avoidance when having sex.

Results of the monthly needs investigations will be fed back to collaborators directly on a monthly basis providing insight for intervention planning. These reports will also be shared with the participants at the end of the study and form the basis of a gay press insert and press release.

This research is funded as part of the evaluation and development programme of CHAPS, which is the national HIV prevention programme for gay men and bisexual men funded by the Department of Health and coordinated by Terrence Higgins Trust.

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