Perceptions of HIV seriousness, risk, and threat among online samples of HIV-negative men who have sex with men in seven countries

Anna N. Chard, Nicholas Metheny, Rob Stephenson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Background: Rates of new HIV infections continue to increase worldwide among men who have sex with men (MSM). Despite effective prevention strategies such as condoms and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), low usage of both methods in many parts of the world hinder prevention efforts. An individual's perceptions of the risk of acquiring HIV and the seriousness they afford to seroconversion are important drivers of behavioral risk-taking. Understanding the behavioral factors suppressing the uptake of HIV prevention services is a critical step in informing strategies to improve interventions to combat the ongoing HIV pandemic among MSM. Objective: The study aimed to examine cross-national perceptions of HIV/AIDS seriousness, risk, and threat and the association between these perceptions and sociodemographic characteristics, relationships, and high-risk sexual behaviors among MSM. Methods: Participants in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Thailand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States were recruited for a self-administered survey via Facebook (N=1908). Respondents were asked to rate their perceived seriousness from 1 (not at all serious) to 5 (very serious) of contracting HIV, their perceived risk from 1 (no risk) to 10 (very high risk) of contracting HIV based on their current behavior, and their perception of the threat of HIV-measured as their confidence in being able to stay HIV-negative throughout their lifetimes-on a scale from 1 (will not have HIV by the end of his lifetime) to 5 (will have HIV by the end of his lifetime). Covariates included sociodemographic factors, sexual behavior, HIV testing, drug use, and relationship status. Three ordered logistic regression models, one for each outcome variable, were fit for each country. Results: Contracting HIV was perceived as serious (mean=4.1-4.6), but perceptions of HIV risk (mean=2.7-3.8) and threat of HIV (mean=1.7-2.2) were relatively low across countries. Older age was associated with significantly lower perceived seriousness of acquiring HIV in five countries (Australia: odds ratio, OR 0.97, 95% CI 0.94-0.99; Brazil: OR 0.95, 95% CI 0.91-0.98; Canada: OR 0.96, 95% CI 0.93-0.98; South Africa: OR 0.96, 95% CI 0.94-0.98; United Kingdom: OR 0.95, 95% CI 0.92-0.98). Being in a male-male sexual relationship was associated with significantly lower perceived risk of HIV in four countries (Australia: OR 0.47, 95% CI 0.30-0.75; Canada: OR: 0.54, 95% CI 0.35-0.86; United Kingdom: OR 0.38, 95% CI 0.24-0.60; United States: OR 0.5, 95% CI 0.31-0.82). Drug use in the previous year was associated with greater threat of contracting HIV in two countries (Canada: OR 1.81, 95% CI 1.13-2.91; United Kingdom: OR 1.7, 95% CI 1.06-2.74). Conclusions: Few measures of behavioral or sexual risk-taking were significantly associated with perceived HIV seriousness, risk, or threat across countries. Overall, low levels of reported risk were identified, and results illustrate important gaps in the understanding of risk among MSM across societies that could be addressed through culturally-tailored prevention messaging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere37
JournalJMIR Public Health and Surveillance
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • HIV
  • Perception
  • Risk
  • Sexual minorities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Informatics


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