Leading by Example: Online Sexual Health Influencers among Men who Have Sex with Men Have Higher HIV and Syphilis Testing Rates in China. Journal of Medical Internet Research. doi:10.2196/1017.   abstract

Background: The spread of healthy behaviors through social networks may be accelerated by influential individuals. Previous studies have used lay health influencers to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among internet-using men who have sex with men (MSM). However, there is a lack of understanding of the characteristics of this key subset of MSM.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine socio-demographic characteristics, HIV/syphilis testing, and sexual behaviors of online MSM sexual health influencers (SHIs) in China, defined as individuals with relatively stronger influence on spreading HIV/STI information online.

Methods: An online survey of MSM was conducted in August 2017, as a final follow-up of a randomized controlled trial promoting HIV testing in eight Chinese cities. Men were recruited through a gay social networking mobile phone application and were included if they were born biologically male, aged 16 years and above, ever had sex with another man, and HIV negative or with unknown HIV status. Information regarding socio-demographic characteristics, sexual behaviors and HIV/syphilis testing was obtained. We also assessed men’s online sexual health influence using a standardized 6-item opinion leadership scale focused on HIV/STI information. Influencers were defined as those whose mean score ranked within the top 13% (a higher score means greater influence). We used multivariable linear/logistic regression models to measure association between being an influencer and HIV/syphilis testing and other related outcomes, controlling for intervention trial effects, age, education, income and marital status.

Results: Overall, 1031 men completed the survey. Most men were younger than 30 years old (819, 79.5%), and had at least college education (667, 64.7%). Influencers were more likely to get tested for HIV (55.3% vs 37.5%, p<0.001) and syphilis (26.5% vs 15.2%, p=0.001) in the last three months compared to non-influencers. There were no significant differences in condomless sex with male partners (19.7% vs 22.6%, p=0.46), mean number of male sex partners (1.32 vs 1.11, p=0.16) in the last three months, and mainly meeting male sex partners online in the last 12 months (73.5% vs 74.4%, p=0.82) between influencers and non-influencers. Regression analyses showed that influencers had higher odds of HIV testing (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]=2.16, 95% CI 1.48, 3.17) and syphilis testing (AOR=1.99, 95% CI 1.28, 3.10) in the last three months.

Conclusions: We identified online sexual health influencers who might be more likely to help promote healthy HIV testing behaviors through MSM populations. Leveraging existing influencers may help improve HIV/syphilis testing among their networks.  


Crowdsourcing to Expand HIV Testing Services: A Closed Cohort Stepped Wedge Cluster Randomized Controlled TrialPLoS Medicine. 15(8): e1002645.  abstract

Background: HIV testing rates are suboptimal among at-risk men. Crowdsourcing may be a useful tool for designing innovative, community-based HIV testing strategies to increase HIV testing. The purpose of this study was to use a stepped wedge cluster randomized controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate the effect of a crowdsourced HIV intervention on HIV testing uptake among men who have sex with men (MSM) in eight Chinese cities.

Methods and findings: An HIV testing intervention was developed through a national image contest, a regional strategy designathon, and local message contests. The final intervention included a multimedia HIV testing campaign, an online HIV testing service, and local testing promotion campaigns tailored for MSM. This intervention was evaluated using a closed cohort stepped wedge cluster RCT in eight Chinese cities (Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, and Jiangmen in Guangdong province; Jinan, Qingdao, Yantai, and Jining in Shandong province) from August 2016 to August 2017. MSM were recruited through Blued, a social networking mobile application for MSM, from July 29 to August 21 of 2016. The primary outcome was self-reported HIV testing in the past 3 months. Secondary outcomes included HIV self-testing, facility-based HIV testing, condom use, and syphilis testing. Generalized linear mixed models (GLMMs) were used to analyze primary and secondary outcomes. We enrolled a total of 1,381 MSM. Most were ≤30 years old (82%), unmarried (86%), and had a college degree or higher (65%). The proportion of individuals receiving an HIV test during the intervention periods within a city was 8.9% (95% confidence interval [CI] 2.2–15.5) greater than during the control periods. In addition, the intention-to-treat analysis showed a higher probability of receiving an HIV test during the intervention periods as compared to the control periods (estimated risk ratio [RR] = 1.43, 95% CI 1.19–1.73). The intervention also increased HIV self-testing (RR = 1.89, 95% CI 1.50–2.38). There was no effect on facility-based HIV testing (RR = 1.00, 95% CI 0.79–1.26), condom use (RR = 1.00, 95% CI 0.86–1.17), or syphilis testing (RR = 0.92, 95% CI 0.70–1.21). A total of 48.6% (593/1,219) of participants reported that they received HIV self-testing. Among men who received two HIV tests, 32 individuals seroconverted during the 1-year study period. Study limitations include the use of self-reported HIV testing data among a subset of men and non-completion of the final survey by 23% of participants. Our study population was a young online group in urban China and the relevance of our findings to other populations will require further investigation.

Conclusions: In this setting, crowdsourcing was effective for developing and strengthening community-based HIV testing services for MSM. Crowdsourced interventions may be an important tool for the scale-up of HIV testing services among MSM in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). 

Coercion And HIV Self-Testing In Men Who Have Sex With Men: Implementation Data From A Cross-Sectional Survey In ChinaJournal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes. 77(2), pp.e22-e25.

Pressured HIV Testing in the Name of Love: A Mixed Methods Analysis of Pressured HIV Testing among Men who have Sex with Men in China. Journal of the International AIDS Society. 21(3), e25098. abstract

Introduction: HIV testing has rapidly expanded into diverse, decentralized settings. While increasing accessibility to HIV testing is beneficial, it may lead to unintended consequences such as being pressured to test. We examined the frequency, correlates and contexts of pressured HIV testing among Chinese men who have sex with men (MSM) using mixed methods.

Methods: We conducted an online survey of MSM (N = 1044) in May 2017. Pressured HIV testing was defined as being forced to test for HIV. We conducted logistic regression analysis to determine the associations between pressured HIV testing and socio‐demographic and sexual behavioural factors. Follow‐up interviews (n = 17) were conducted with men who reported pressured testing and we analysed qualitative data using a thematic analysis approach.

Results: Ninety‐six men (9.2%) reported experiencing pressure to test for HIV. Regular male sex partners were the most common source of pressure (61%, 59/96), and the most common form of pressure was a threat to end a relationship with the one who was being pressured (39%, 37/96). We found a higher risk of pressured testing in men who had only used HIV self‐testing compared to men who had never self‐tested (AOR 2.39 (95%CI: 1.38 to 4.14)). However, this relationship was only significant among men with low education (AOR 5.88 (95% CI: 1.92 to 17.99)) and not among men with high education (AOR 1.62 (95% CI: 0.85 to 3.10)). After pressured testing, about half of men subsequently tested for HIV (55%, 53/96) without pressure – none reported being diagnosed with HIV. Consistent with this finding, qualitative data suggest that perceptions of pressure existed on a continuum and depended on the relationship status of the one who pressured them. Although being pressured to test was accompanied by negative feelings, men who were pressured into testing often changed their attitude towards HIV testing, testing behaviours, sexual behaviours and relationship with the one who pressured them to test.

Conclusion: Pressured HIV testing was reported among Chinese MSM, especially from men with low education levels and men who received HIV self‐testing. However, in some circumstances, pressure to test helped MSM in several ways, challenging our understanding of the role of agency in the setting of HIV testing. 

Crowdsourcing Designathon: A New Model for Multisectoral CollaborationBMJ Innovations. (online first)


Social Media Engagement and HIV Testing Among Men Who Have Sex with Men in China. Journal of Medical Internet Research19(7), e251. abstract

BackgroundMany interventions find that social media engagement with health promotion materials can translate into behavioral changes. However, only a few studies have examined the ways in which specific actions on various social media platforms are correlated with health behaviors.

ObjectiveThe objective of this study was to examine the association between social media use and HIV testing behaviors among Chinese men who have sex with men (MSM).

MethodsIn July 2016, a Web-based survey was conducted to recruit MSM in 8 Chinese cities through Blued (Blue City Holdings Ltd.), the world’s largest gay mobile phone app. Data on sociodemographic variables, social media use platforms and behaviors, sexual behaviors, and HIV testing histories were collected. HIV testing–related social media use was defined as having ever engaged with HIV testing content on social media, which was further divided into observing (ie, receiving), endorsing (eg, liking and sharing), and contributing (eg, posting or commenting on HIV testing materials). Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was conducted to determine the best division of HIV testing–related social media use. Univariate and multivariable logistic regressions were used to examine the association between HIV testing–related social media use and HIV testing behaviors.

ResultsA total of 2105 individuals participated in the survey. Among them, 46.75% (984) were under the age of 24 years, 35.43% (746) had high school education or less, and 47.74% (587) had condomless sex in the last 3 months. More than half of the respondents (58.14%, 1224/2105) reported HIV testing–related social media use. Additionally, HIV testing–related social media use, especially on multifunctional platforms such as WeChat, was found to be associated with recent HIV testing (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 2.32, 95% CI 1.66-3.24). Contributing on social media was correlated with recent HIV testing (aOR 2.10, 95% CI 1.40-3.16), but neither observing (aOR 0.66, 95% CI 0.38-1.15) nor endorsing (aOR 1.29, 95% CI 0.88-1.90) were correlated.

ConclusionsOur data suggest that social media use, particularly on multifunctional platforms such as WeChat and with contributing behaviors, is correlated with HIV testing among MSM in China. Campaigns that promote active participant contribution on social media beyond passive observation and endorsement of promotional materials are needed. This study has implications for the design and implementation of social media interventions to promote HIV testing.

Faster and Riskier? Online Context of Sex Seeking Among Men Who Have Sex with Men in ChinaSexually Transmitted Diseases44(4), 239-244. abstract

Background: Many men who have sex with men (MSM) seek sex partners online, creating barriers and opportunities for human immunodeficiency virus prevention. The purpose of this study was to examine the characteristics of MSM and the risks associated with seeking sex through websites, gay apps, and both platforms in China.

Methods: Data were collected through a cross-sectional online survey from September through October 2014 from 3 large gay Web portals. Sociodemographic information, sexual behaviors, and online sex seeking behaviors were measured. Multinomial logistic regression was performed to compare sexual risk behaviors among website users, gay app users, and men who used both platforms.

Results: Of the 1201 participants, 377 (31.4%) were website-only users, 487 (40.5%) were gay app-only users, and 337 (28.0%) were men who used both platforms. These 3 MSM subgroups have distinct sociodemographic characteristics. Overall, 57.6% of participants reported having engaged in condomless anal sex with their last male partner in the past 6 months, but there was no significant difference in condomless sex between the 3 groups. Men who used both platforms viewed more sexually transmitted disease-related messages than website-only users (adjusted odds ratio, 2.19; 95% confidence interval, 1.57–3.05).

Conclusions: Condom usage behaviors were unaffected by the medium through which sexual partners were found. However, the high frequency of condomless sex suggests that websites and gay apps are both risk environments. This study suggests using multiple platforms for human immunodeficiency virus/sexually transmitted disease social media interventions may be useful.

Crowdsourcing to promote HIV testing among MSM in China: Study Protocol for a Stepped Wedge Randomized Controlled TrialTrials18, 447. abstract

Background: HIV testing for marginalized populations is critical to controlling the HIV epidemic. However, the HIV testing rate among men who have sex with men (MSM) in China remains low. Crowdsourcing, the process of shifting individual tasks to a group, has been increasingly adopted in public health programs and may be a useful tool for spurring innovation in HIV testing campaigns. We designed a multi-site study to develop a crowdsourced HIV test promotion campaign and evaluate its effectiveness against conventional campaigns among MSM in China.

Methods: This study will use an adaptation of the stepped wedge, randomized controlled trial design. A total of eight major metropolitan cities in China will be randomized to sequentially initiate interventions at 3-month intervals. The intervention uses crowdsourcing at multiple steps to sustain crowd contribution. Approximately 1280 MSM, who are 16 years of age or over, live in the intervention city, have not been tested for HIV in the past 3 months, and are not living with HIV, will be recruited. Recruitment will take place through banner advertisements on a large gay dating app along with other social media platforms. Participants will complete one follow-up survey every 3 months for 12 months to evaluate their HIV testing uptake in the past 3 months and secondary outcomes including syphilis testing, sex without condoms, community engagement, testing stigma, and other related outcomes.

Discussion: MSM HIV testing rates remain poor in China. Innovative methods to promote HIV testing are urgently needed. With a large-scale, stepped wedge, randomized controlled trial our study can improve understanding of crowdsourcing’s long-term effectiveness in public health campaigns, expand HIV testing coverage among a key population, and inform intervention design in related public health fields. 


Will Gay Sex-seeking Mobile Phone Applications Facilitate Group Sex?: A Cross-Sectional Online Survey among Men who have Sex with Men in ChinaPloS one11(11), e0167238. abstract

Introduction: China is amidst a sexual revolution, with changing sexual practices and behaviors. Sex–seeking mobile phone applications (gay apps) that allow multiple people to meet up quickly may facilitate group sex. This study was therefore undertaken to evaluate group sex among Chinese MSM and to better understand factors associated with group sex.

Methods: An online survey was conducted from September-October 2014, collecting data on socio-demographics, sexual behaviors, use of gay apps and occurrence of group sex among Chinese MSM. Univariate and multivariable logistic regressions were used to compare group sex and non-group sex participants.

Results: Of the 1,424 MSM, the majority were under 30 years old (77.5%), unmarried (83.9%), and were gay apps users (57.9%). Overall, 141 (9.9%) participants engaged in group sex in the last 12 months. Multivariate analyses showed that men living with HIV, engaged in condomless anal intercourse with men, and used gay apps were more likely to engage in group sex, with adjusted ORs of 3.74 (95% CI 1.92–7.28), 2.88 (95% CI 2.00–4.16) and 1.46 (95% CI: 1.00–2.13), respectively. Among gay app users, the likelihood of group sex increases with the number of sex partners and the number of sex acts with partners met through a gay app.

Conclusions: Chinese MSM who engage in group sex are also more likely to engage in other risky sexual behaviors, and gay app use may facilitate group sex. Further research is needed among MSM who engage in group sex in order to target interventions and surveillance. 

Comparing the Effectiveness of a Crowdsourced Video and a Social Marketing Video in Promoting Condom Use among Chinese Men who have Sex with Men: A Study ProtocolBMJ Open, 6(10), e010755. abstract

Introduction: Crowdsourcing has been used to spur innovation and increase community engagement in public health programmes. Crowdsourcing is the process of giving individual tasks to a large group, often involving open contests and enabled through multisectoral partnerships. Here we describe one crowdsourced video intervention in which a video promoting condom use is produced through an open contest. The aim of this study is to determine whether a crowdsourced intervention is as effective as a social marketing intervention in promoting condom use among high-risk men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender male-to-female (TG) in China.

Method: We evaluate videos developed by crowdsourcing and social marketing. The crowdsourcing contest involved an open call for videos. Entries were judged on capacity to promote condom use, to be shareable or ‘go viral’ and to give value to the individual. 1170 participants will be recruited for the randomised controlled trial. Participants need to be MSM age 16 and over who have had condomless anal sex in the last 3 months. Recruitment will be through an online banner ad on a popular MSM web page and other social media platforms. After completing an initial survey, participants will be randomly assigned to view either the social marketing video or the crowdsourcing video. Follow-up surveys will be completed at 3 weeks and 3 months after initial intervention to evaluate condomless sex and related secondary outcomes. Secondary outcomes include condom social norms, condom negotiation, condom self-efficacy, HIV/syphilis testing, frequency of sex acts and incremental cost. 

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