Introduction Young Black MSM (YBMSM) continue to experience HIV disparities in the US. Increasingly evidence suggests these disparities are perpetuated by exposure to sexual networks with higher HIV incidence and untreated prevalence. In Baltimore, there is high use of geosocial networking (GSN) apps to meet sex partners among newly diagnosed HIV-infected YBMSM, yet little is known about how they navigate these potentially risky environments. We interviewed app users to explore perceptions of and strategies to mitigate HIV risk in these spaces.
Methods We actively recruited YBMSM (n=17) age 18–24 (mean=21.5/SD=1.8) from the most frequently reported GSN-app among new MSM HIV cases in Baltimore. Participants were recruited by direct messaging while logged-on in high HIV transmission venues or census tracts identified using surveillance and community viral load data. Participants completed 60–90 min in-depth interviews which were audio-recorded and transcribed. Transcripts were analysed using categorical analysis including a 3-stage analytic coding strategy and were double-coded until consistency was achieved.
Results Participants perceived a high risk of acquiring HIV from partners met on the app but also described strategies they felt mitigated those risk. Some participants described direct sexual health communication with potential partners – often involving a discussion of HIV status. A second more commonly described strategy was to presume a potential partner was safe or not safe based on social cues or profile characteristics. The third strategy involved limiting numbers of partners or limiting sex to activities believed to involve less HIV risk.
Conclusion Sexual networks are an important driver of HIV risk among YBMSM and GSN apps are increasingly becoming a central node in these networks. We found that young men are aware of their risk while navigating these social spaces, but may be using ineffective strategies to mitigate those risk. Future research examining strategies to reach youth in these spaces to help them make healthier sexual connexions is needed.
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