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O24 Which sexually transmitted infections do gay and bisexual men find most scary and why? a qualitative focus group study in four cities in england
  1. David Reid1,2,
  2. Jessica Datta1,2,
  3. Sonali Wayal1,3,
  4. Cath Mercer1,3,
  5. Gwenda Hughes1,4,
  6. Peter Weatherburn1,2
  1. 1Health Protection Research Unit in Sexually Transmitted and Blood-Borne Viruses, London, UK
  2. 2London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  3. 3Centre for Sexual Health and HIV, University College, London, UK
  4. 4Public Health England, London, UK


Introduction Men who have sex with men (MSM) are a priority for STI prevention interventions including the promotion of regular testing and condom use. Effective intervention design requires understanding of MSM’s knowledge and fear of STIs, which may affect attitudes and behaviour related to risk, testing and treatment.

Methods We recruited a diverse sample of MSM in four English cities, through social networking sites and community organisations. 61 men attended eight focus group discussions. Topics included knowledge and attitudes towards 11 STIs. Discussions were audio recorded, transcribed and analysed thematically.

Results Participants demonstrated variable knowledge and awareness of STIs. No focus groups were unanimous in their ranking of fear of STIs, although HIV and HCV were considered the most ‘scary’ in all groups. Fear of syphilis and herpes was also considerable. Gonorrhoea was considered a ‘rite of passage’ and was not widely feared. Other infections showed no clear patterning within or between groups. Participants suggested a complex range of explanations for fear of particular STIs. Participants weighed up the scary and less scary attributes depending on the extent of their knowledge and experience, their prevalence among MSM, associated stigma, transmission mechanisms, contagiousness, symptoms, severity, and the availability, effectiveness and ease of use of vaccines, treatment and/or cure.

Discussion Participants expressed a range of nuanced fears and concerns related to individual STIs and STI testing and treatment. Understanding these fears, and how they might be mitigated, will help improve the impact of interventions promoting STI testing and treatment.

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