Background Recruiting individuals to take part in studies about sexual health can often be difficult due to the sensitive nature of the study topic. As a result, the sample may be less representative of the general population than desired. Understanding potential participants’ views, motivations and concerns may aid in the design of a recruitment protocol that maximises participation and minimises bias.
Methods During the initial stages of a study concerning sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at a New Zealand university health centre, a series of focus groups were carried out in order to understand acceptable methods of recruitment. The focus group participants were sought from the study target population and were recruited via posters displayed around the university. Three focus groups of between five and seven participants were conducted. Discussions were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Content analysis methodology was employed using a constant comparative method.
Results A key theme that emerged centred around the timing of any approach; students almost unanimously agreed that an approach prior to an STI consultation would be more acceptable than after. Reasons given included wanting to “just get out of there” after seeing the clinician, as well as having something to do during idle time in the waiting room. Many students suggested that they would be less likely to take part after receiving a STI test result that was positive, as they would “not want to think about it”.
Conclusion Understanding students’ views around STI testing and research participation helped us to develop a protocol that was sympathetic to the target population’s attitudes and desires, thus improving its acceptability and attractiveness to this population. This information may be useful to other researchers planning sexual health surveys in similar populations.
Disclosure of interest statement The authors declare no conflicts of interest.
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