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Men’s Assessment of Social Support and Risk Networks

Group of people using smart phones to connect network with social media
Using innovative research techniques to survey men who have sex with men
  • Client
    National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • Dates
    2009 - 2012

The Men’s Assessment of Social Support and Risk Networks was a pilot study of the sex and sex-drug risk and risk reduction practices of men who have sex with men (MSM). Its goal was to test recruitment procedures and questionnaires that assessed the influence of social networks, norms, and beliefs on the sex and sex-drug risk behaviors of a racially and ethnically diverse sample of (MSM).

Respondent Driven Sampling (RDS) was used to recruit 216 MSM. They completed a face-to-face questionnaire on their social networks, their own and their network members’ norms about and influence on sex-drug risk practices, and their own and their network members’ sex/sex-drug use risk/risk-reduction practices. They also completed a self-administered questionnaire about their attitudes, beliefs, and HIV status.

RDS is an innovative technique for efficiently recruiting samples of hard-to-reach populations drawn from ramified social networks. It has been widely used in HIV research worldwide to study IV drug users and MSM. As a codified and sophisticated implementation of a traditional snowball sample, when properly implemented and certain assumptions are met, it can produce inferential estimates of the characteristics of hidden populations for which no sampling frame exists. RDS uses a purposively recruited set of “seeds” who are interviewed and then given vouchers to distribute to members of their social networks who fit the criteria of the population being studied. This is an iterative process where respondents recruited by seeds are given vouchers to distribute that produce long referral chains minimizing selection effects. In the SSRN study, this resulted in the successful recruitment of a core sample of 204 African American MSM that has been the basis of quantitative analyses and publications.

Analyses of the data from this pilot are ongoing. They have been used to develop a much larger implementation of this pilot to study social and sexual networks of young African American MSM on the South Side of Chicago. Findings from the pilot show that there are important social influences on HIV risk: the attitudes and norms expressed by social network members significantly influence respondents’ risk practices. In addition, differences in the composition of personal networks (family, friends, and sexual partners) have important consequences for risk.

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