The LGBT Health & Development Program

Research Blog—Online Focus Groups for HIV Prevention?

Posted on January 29th, 2015 by Gregory Phillips II in Featured, Research Blog. No Comments

young man holding a smart phone

Image credit: Daniel Foster, “Texting,” July 25, 2014

Adolescent gay, bisexual, and queer men are highly affected by HIV [1]. However, there aren’t many prevention programs that are designed for these youth. Additionally, many of these youth are isolated and lack support from their family and peers. One potential option to improve the health of these young men is to harness the widespread use of the Internet by adolescents, since they are already using it to find sexual health information and social support [2, 3].

In a recent study, we enrolled 75 gay, bisexual, and queer males from across the US between 14 and 18 years of age into two rounds of online focus groups [4]. The groups took place over three days, and individuals were separated by sexual experience. The focus groups were designed to get information on possible text message content for an HIV prevention intervention in development. However, we saw that the participants received additional benefits from their involvement in the focus groups.

Overall, all participants said involvement in the group had positively changed or reinforced their views on using condoms. Some example quotes from the sexually experienced and sexually inexperienced groups were:

“The discussion has encouraged me to give condoms a try.” (Experienced)

“It definitely reinforced my idea that condoms need to be used by everyone. Period.” (Inexperienced)

Their attitudes about safe sex also shifted, as highlighted by these quotes:

“This discussion has made me realize that sex isn’t as much of a terrible thing as people say. Obviously it’s still VERY important to be safe, but sex is okay when you’re with someone you can trust.” (Experienced)

“I think that if my behavior were to change at all, it would be that I’ll advocate safe sex and waiting for the right person around my friends more instead of just being neutral on the topic.” (Inexperienced)

This study provides some of the first evidence on the benefit of using online focus groups to connect young men who may have difficulty finding information and discussing these topics. These results indicate that having safe spaces online for discussion can improve the sexual health and HIV prevention behaviors of adolescent gay, bisexual, and queer men. With the potential utility and minimal cost of online focus groups in HIV prevention research, further research is needed into the effect an intervention such as this could have on youth at risk for HIV.

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[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Vital signs: HIV infection, testing, and risk behaviors among youths—United States. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 61, 971-976.

[2] Hillier, L., Mitchell, K.J., & Ybarra, M.L. (2012). The Internet as a safety net: Findings from a series of online focus groups with LGB and non-LGB young people in the U.S. Journal of LGBT Youth, 9(3), 225-246. doi: 10.1080/19361653.2012.684642

[3] Magee, J.C., Bigelow, L., Dehaan, S., & Mustanski, B.S. (2012). Sexual health information seeking online: A mixed-methods study among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender young people. Health Education and Behavior, 39(3), 276-289. doi: 10.1177/1090198111401384

[4] Ybarra, M.L., DuBois, L.Z., Parsons, J.T., Prescott, T.L., & Mustanski, B.S. (2014). Online focus groups as an HIV prevention program for gay, bisexual, and queer adolescent males. AIDS Education and Prevention, 26(6), 554-564. doi: 10.1521/aeap.2014.26.6.554


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