Personal communities and safer sex: a qualitative study of young gay and bisexual men in Scotland

Boydell, Nicola (2015) Personal communities and safer sex: a qualitative study of young gay and bisexual men in Scotland. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Background: Successful HIV prevention efforts among gay men have been linked to strong ‘community’ responses to HIV and adherence to safer sex practices. Research has found that gay men are increasingly ambivalent about ‘gay communities’, leading some to suggest that using the lens of ‘personal communities’ (PCs) may offer a more useful way of exploring gay men’s personal and social relationships. This qualitative research study set out to explore young gay and bisexual men’s PCs, and the role people within them may play in shaping men’s understandings of, and approach to, ‘safer sex’.
Methods: The findings of this qualitative study are based on data drawn from 30 semi-structured interviews with young (aged 18-29) gay and bisexual men living in Scotland. Spencer and Pahl’s (2006) method of exploring PCs using ‘affective maps’ was applied. Two interconnected phases of analysis were conducted: 1) analysis of the ‘maps’ developed by participants; and 2) thematic analysis of interview data using principles of the Framework approach.
Findings: The findings suggest that men’s PCs are complex and diverse. Patterns were observed in terms of overall composition of the men’s PCs. Many of the men had ‘mixed’ friendship groups in terms of gender and sexual orientation. Although the men’s PCs were not wholly shaped by connection to ‘gay communities’, men nevertheless articulated the importance of support around safer sex from their gay male friends.
Understandings of safer sex were based primarily on the need to protect against sexual infection. A novel finding was that some men framed safer sex as the need to protect against non-sexual risks. Men drew on a range of resources, from within their PCs, gay communities, and beyond, in developing understandings of safer sex. Social norms of condom use among the men’s PCs shaped men’s responses to risk in sex, specifically their approach to condom use. Consistent condom use with new and casual partners was framed as ‘normal’, however many of the young men reported a desire to discontinue condom use in the context of a relationship. Condomless sex in this context was not generally framed as ‘unsafe sex’. A novel finding was that many of the men articulated the need for HIV testing prior to ceasing condom use, not only as a response to risk of infection, but also as a way of building trust within a relationship.
Conclusions: The findings suggest that future community-level interventions need to take into account changing patterns of sociality among young gay and bisexual men, and suggest that HIV prevention interventions could capitalise upon supportive relationships between men and other people within their PCs.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Sexual health, gay, bisexual, communities, HIV, qualitative, Scotland
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences
Supervisor's Name: McDaid, Dr Lisa. M and Buston, Dr Katie
Date of Award: 2015
Depositing User: Dr Nicola Boydell
Unique ID: glathesis:2015-6345
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 05 Jun 2015 14:18
Last Modified: 12 Aug 2015 08:26

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