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Ethn Health. 2003 Feb;8(1):15-27.

Researching sensitive issues and ethnicity: lessons from sexual health.

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HIV/STI Division, Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, Health Protection Agency, 61 Colindale Avenue, London NW9 5EQ, UK.


Researchers are generally familiar with the need to adapt their research methods in order to minimise the impact of sensitivity. However, are different considerations required for studies of ethnicity or with ethnic minority respondents? This paper provides insight into strategies used by the authors to tackle sensitivity in qualitative and quantitative research studies of sexual health and ethnicity. Drawing on examples from these studies, the paper demonstrates the relevance of Lee's model of sensitivity, and examines ways in which ethnicity may add further dimensions to our ability to understand, identify and limit sensitivity in the research process. The paper identifies techniques available to researchers for handling sensitivity in general, as well as those that may be useful for researching sensitive topics among ethnic minority populations. The paper concludes that, given the transitional and contextual nature of ethnicity and sensitivity, formulaic approaches for tackling the latter are inappropriate. Instead, strategies are best developed in collaboration with the study communities.

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