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Association between knowledge, risk behaviours, and testing for sexually transmitted infections among men who have sex with men: findings from a large online survey in the United Kingdom

HIV Medicine, 2019 Sep; 20(8):523-533 (doi: 10.1111/hiv.12753).

Authors: Sonali Wayal, David Reid, Peter Weatherburn, Paula Blomquist, S. Fabiane, Gwenda Hughes, Catherine H. Mercer

Abstract

Objectives: In the UK, men who have sex with men (MSM) bear a disproportionate sexually transmitted infection (STI) burden. We investigated MSM's STI knowledge; whether their STI testing behaviour met national guidelines (annually if sexually active; 3-monthly if engaging in STI risk behaviours); and the relationship between STI testing in the last 3 months, STI knowledge and STI risk behaviours by HIV status.

Methods: Sexually active (in the last year) men aged > 15 years who were UK residents and were recruited from gay-orientated online dating platforms completed an anonymous online survey about STI knowledge, STI risk behaviours, and STI testing (March-May 2017). This included 11 true statements about STIs. Respondents scored 1 for each statement they 'knew', with those scoring < 6 overall treated as having 'poor' STI knowledge. Descriptive and multivariable analyses were conducted, separately by HIV status, to test our hypothesis and calculate adjusted odds ratios (AORs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs).

Results: Compared to HIV-positive men (n = 489), the proportion of HIV-negative/unknown-status men (n = 3157) with 'poor' STI knowledge was significantly higher (46.4% versus 22.9% for HIV-positive men) and the proportion with STI testing in the last 12 months was lower (71.6% versus 87.2%, respectively). In the last 3 months, 56.9% of HIV-negative/unknown-status and 74.1% of HIV-positive men reported STI risk behaviours, of whom 45.8% and 55.1%, respectively, had been tested for STIs during this time. Among HIV-negative/unknown-status men, those reporting STI risk behaviours were more likely (AOR 1.52; 95% CI 1.26-1.84) and those with poor STI knowledge less likely (AOR 0.73; 95% CI 0.61-0.89) to have been tested during the last 3 months. However, neither factor was independently associated with 3-monthly testing among HIV-positive men.

Conclusions: Improving STI knowledge, especially among HIV-negative/unknown-status men, and promoting frequent STI testing among men engaging in STI risk behaviours are vital to address the poor sexual health of MSM.

Keywords: health knowledge; men who have sex with men; sexual behaviours; sexually transmitted infection; sexually transmitted infection testing

© 2019 The Authors. HIV Medicine published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British HIV Association.

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