Objectives: To compare the characteristics of a self-selected, convenience sample of men who have sex with men (MSM) recruited through the internet with MSM drawn from a national probability survey in Great Britain.
Methods: The internet sample (n = 2065) was recruited through two popular websites for homosexual men in Great Britain in May and June 2003. This sample was compared with MSM (n = 117) from the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal), a probability sample survey of adults resident in Great Britain conducted between May 1999 and February 2001.
Results: No significant differences were observed between the samples on a range of sociodemographic and behavioural variables (p>0.05). However, men from the internet sample were younger (p<0.001) and more likely to be students (p = 0.001), but less likely to live in London (p = 0.001) or report good health (p = 0.014). Although both samples were equally likely to report testing for HIV, men from the internet sample were more likely to report a sexually transmitted infection in the past year (16.9% v 4.8%, adjusted odds ratio 4.14, 95% CI 1.76 to 9.74; p = 0.001), anal intercourse (76.9% v 63.3%; p = 0.001) and unprotected anal intercourse in the past 3 months (45% v 36.6%; p = 0.064).
Conclusions: The internet provides a means of recruiting a self-selected, convenience sample of MSM whose social and demographic characteristics are broadly similar to those of MSM drawn from a national probability survey. However, estimates of high-risk sexual behaviour based on internet convenience samples are likely to overestimate levels of sexual risk behaviour in the wider MSM population.
- aOR, adjusted odds ratio
- MSM, men who have sex with men
- Natsal, National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles
- STI, sexually transmitted infection
- UAI, unprotected anal intercourse
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