Web-Based, Structural HIV Prevention in MSM's Networks

Investigator: Susan Kegeles, PhD
Sponsor: Internet Sexuality Information Services, Inc.

Location(s): United States


a multicomponent, structural intervention website to evaluate new ways to prevent HIV among MSM who use the Internet. The study, funded by a grant from the Universitywide AIDS Research Program, is a collaboration between CAPS researchers, the San Francisco-based non-profit Internet Sexuality Information Services, Inc. (ISIS), and the San Francisco Department of Public Health. This collaboration presents a unique opportunity to address the risk factors that have emerged since the Internet became a major venue where men who have sex with men (MSM) come together to form social and sexual networks. We will collect formative data from statewide focus groups with MSM who meet sexual partners online and from consultations with website operators, designers, and programmers. We will integrate these data with our previous research findings and experience developing online prevention tools for MSM.

The goal is to design a website, with multiple components, to help MSM reduce their risks for HIV through a combination of individual- and community-level, Web-based interventions. Participants will be offered a choice of skill-building interactive and educational tools, designed to encourage healthy personal behaviors. Alongside these tools, and with the ultimate goal of disseminating healthy norms among online users, there will be several opportunities for participants to come together online as a community by engaging in an ongoing discussion about issues that are relevant to their lives and health as MSM. To evaluate the outcome of the project, the researchers will collect website usage statistics to summarize how the different components are used, and interview in detail a select group of participants in the study about their experience using the website.

Significance: Many studies, including our own, have documented that chatrooms and personals websites are popular socialization tools among MSM and may be related to HIV risk-taking behavior. Fortunately, research and experience have also demonstrated that the Internet can be a vehicle for HIV prevention interventions with the potential to improve public health. Until now, most programs have targeted individual behaviors; while such efforts play an important role in HIV prevention, environmental and structural-level interventions may have a greater potential to change the social climate where risk behaviors take place and, by affecting community norms, reach a larger population than the individuals directly participating in the program. This study is particularly important in that it aims to build on the successes of existing Web-based, STD/HIV- prevention programs by consolidating their experiences and expanding the focus beyond the individual level.