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Getting the terminology right in sexual health research: the importance of accurately classifying fuck buddies among men who have sex with men
  1. Clare Bellhouse1,2,
  2. Sandra Walker1,2,
  3. Christopher K Fairley1,2,
  4. Eric PF Chow1,2,
  5. Jade E Bilardi1,2,3
  1. 1 Melbourne Sexual Health Centre, Alfred Health, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  2. 2 Central Clinical School, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  3. 3 Department of General Practice, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Clare Bellhouse, Melbourne Sexual Health Centre, Alfred Health, 580 Swanston Street, Melbourne, VIC 3053, Australia; clare.bellhouse{at}


Objective The aim of this report was to raise the issue of the definition and classification of partner terminology in men who have sex with men (MSM) research, particularly in regards to ‘fuck buddies’. If definitions in research differ from general consensus in the MSM population, it is possible that public health strategies will be ineffective as the target population may be inaccurate.

Methods Thirty semistructured interviews with MSM attending the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre were conducted, focusing on the willingness to change sexual practices to reduce the risk of pharyngeal gonorrhoea. As part of these interviews, men were also asked their views on the terminology they used to describe their relationships and sexual partners.

Results The degree of emotional attachment often defined the type or classification of relationships. There was a consensus among men that partners they engaged with for ‘sex only’ were classified as casual partners and partners with whom there was an emotional attachment or formalisation of the relationship were classified as ‘regular partners’. However, the classification of ‘fuck buddy’ as a regular or casual partner was less clear.

Conclusions Further research is needed to ascertain the ways in which men conceptualise sexual relationships and define or classify partner types, particularly ‘fuck buddy’ relationships. A third category for sexual relationships should be considered to encapsulate fuck buddy relationships.


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  • EPFC and JEB are joint last authors.

  • Handling editor Jackie A Cassell

  • Contributors SW, CKF, EPFC, CB and JEB designed the study. SW conducted the interviews. CB and JB performed data analyses. CB wrote the first draft of the manuscript. All authors contributed data interpretation and revised the manuscript critically for important intellectual content.

  • Funding This work was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) programme grant (number 568971). EPFC is supported by the Australian NHMRC Early Career Fellowship (number 1091226). JB is also supported by the Australian NHMRC Early Career Fellowship (number 1013135).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval Alfred Hospital Human Research Ethics Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Further data from this study have been published elsewhere and can be found in ref. 5.