The HardCell web site: how to engage hard to reach MSM around health promotion online

Published: July 18, 2010

The HardCell web site: how to engage hard to reach MSM around health promotion online

A. Wardle1, P. Ward2

1Terrence Higgins Trust, Health Promotion, London, United Kingdom, 2Terrence Higgins Trust, London, United Kingdom

Issue: MSM in the UK with many sexual partners and participating in esoteric sexual practices, such as fisting are a sizeable population but hard to engage around health promotion. They are at increased risk of HIV and other STIs such as hepatitis C and lymphogranuloma venereum.

Description: As research shows MSM prefer online interventions (67.8%), THT created a web site to meet these men’s information needs around HIV, sexual health and drug use. Exploratory work with men identified their issues and shaped website content and presentation. As this sexual lifestyle is often stigmatised, men had strong views on how health promoters should engage with them. The site ( has information and harm reduction content covering 18 esoteric sexual practices,16 STIs, 13 recreational drugs; also sexual dysfunction (including sex addiction) and life with HIV.

Lessons learned: Generating traffic to the site required advertising on specialist websites, links with specialist sites, ads in appropriate parts of the gay press, and promotional materials in venues and at events for this group. Analysis shows visitors come chiefly from the UK, but also other English-speaking countries, and that fisting, water sports, barebacking, cocaine and poppers are the issues of most interest. With 73,782 visits since launch (May 2008-Feb 2010), 695,550 page views and 100 visits per day, the site is one of THT’s most visited sites for MSM. It is also acting as a resource for health promoters working with such men.

Next steps: High traffic shows health promoters can reach a marginal, potentially unresponsive population if sensitivity is shown to their needs and norms around HIV, sexual health, drug use and sex. A culturally relevant information bank now exists to support future interventions. Involvement of commercial interests catering for this population are being sought to refresh the site and encourage new and repeat visits.

Download the e-Poster (pdf)

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