Using a Syndemics Theory Approach to Study HIV Risk Taking in a Population of Men Who Use the Internet to Find Partners for Unprotected Sex.

Published: March 15, 2011


This study examines the value of using syndemics theory as a model for understanding HIV risk taking in a population of men who are at great risk for acquiring and/or transmitting HIV. The principal aim is to provide an empirical test of the applicability of the theory to sexual risk behaviors in this particular research population. The study was based on a national random sample of 332 men who have sex with men, or MSM, who use the Internet to seek men with whom they can engage in unprotected sex. Data collection was conducted via telephone interviews between January 2008 and May 2009. As hypothesized in the syndemics theory model, attitudes toward condom use were central to understanding men’s involvement in risky sex. As hypothesized, these attitudes depended on various demographic, psychological/psychosocial functioning, and sex-related preference measures. Also as hypothesized, psychological and psychosocial functioning were found to be very important to the overall model, and as expected, these factors were shaped greatly by factors such as demographic characteristics and childhood maltreatment experiences. The structural equation assessing the fit of the overall model indicated solid support for the syndemics theory approach. Overall, syndemics theory seems to apply fairly well to understanding the complexity of the factors that underlie men’s risk-taking practices. The complicated interplay among factors such as attitudes toward condom use, childhood maltreatment experiences, psychological and psychosocial functioning, and substance use and abuse-all of which are central to a syndemics theory approach to studying risk-was demonstrated.

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