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BMC Public Health. 2017 Aug 17;17(1):660. doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4653-5.

Patterns of HIV testing practices among young gay and bisexual men living in Scotland: a qualitative study.

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Usher Institute of Population Health Sciences and Informatics, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.
MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK.



Increasing overall rates, and frequency, of HIV testing in populations at risk is a key public health objective and a critical dimension of HIV prevention efforts. In the UK, men who have sex with men (MSM) remain one of the communities most at risk of HIV and, within this, young gay men are a key risk group. Understanding HIV testing practices is important in the development of interventions to promote testing among young gay and bisexual men.


Qualitative interviews were conducted with thirty young gay and bisexual men (aged 18-29) in Scotland. Thematic analysis of men's accounts of their approach to HIV testing identified three overarching patterns of testing: 'habitual', 'reactive' and ' ad hoc'.


This qualitative study, the first to explore patterns of HIV testing practices among young gay and bisexual men in the UK, contributes novel findings around the role of social support and 'community' in shaping young men's approaches to HIV testing. The findings suggest that social support can play an important role in encouraging and facilitating HIV testing among young gay men, however, social norms of non-testing also have the potential to act as a barrier to development of a regular routine. Men with habitual testing practices framed HIV testing as both a personal and 'community' responsibility, and more effective than testing in response to risk events or emergent symptoms. Men who reported reactive testing practices described testing for HIV primarily in response to perceived exposure to sexual risk, along with 'transitional moments' such as starting, ending or changes to a relationship. Among young men who reported testing on an ad hoc basis, inconvenience and disruptions to HIV testing practices, particularly where men lacked social support, acted as a barrier to developing a routine of regular testing.


Our findings suggest that interventions which seek to increase rates of HIV testing and testing frequency among young gay and bisexual men should include a specific focus on promoting and supporting positive testing practices within young men's friendship groups and wider gay communities.


HIV prevention; HIV testing; MSM; Qualitative; Sexual behaviour; Young gay and bisexual men

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