Characteristics of men who have sex with men in southern Africa who seek sex Online: A cross-sectional study

Shauna Stahlman*, Ashley Grosso, Sosthenes Ketende, Tampose Mothopeng, Noah Taruberekera, John Nkonyana, Xolile Mabuza, Bhekie Sithole, Zandile Mnisi, Stefan Baral

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Background: Use of the Internet for finding sexual partners is increasing, particularly among men who have sex with men (MSM). In particular, MSM who seek sex online are an important group to target for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/sexually transmitted infection (STI) interventions because they tend to have elevated levels of sexual risk behavior and because the Internet itself may serve as a promising intervention delivery mechanism. However, few studies have examined the correlates of online sexual partner seeking among MSM in sub-Saharan Africa. Objective: These analyses aim to describe the prevalence of using the Internet to find new male sexual partners among MSM in two southern African countries. In addition, these analyses examine the sociodemographic characteristics, experiences of discrimination and stigma, mental health and substance use characteristics, and HIV-related knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors among MSM associated with meeting sex partners online. Methods: MSM were enrolled into a cross-sectional study across two sites in Lesotho (N=530), and one in Swaziland (N=322) using respondent-driven sampling. Participants completed a survey and HIV testing. Data were analyzed using bivariate and multivariable logistic regression models to determine which factors were associated with using the Internet to meet sex partners among MSM. Results: The prevalence of online sex-seeking was high, with 39.4% (209/530) of MSM in Lesotho and 43.8% (141/322) of MSM in Swaziland reporting meeting a new male sexual partner online. In the multivariable analysis, younger age (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 0.37, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.27-0.50 per 5 years in Lesotho aOR 0.68, 95% CI 0.49-0.93 in Swaziland), having more than a high school education (aOR 18.2, 95% CI 7.09-46.62 in Lesotho aOR 4.23, 95% CI 2.07-8.63 in Swaziland), feeling scared to walk around in public places (aOR 1.89, 95% CI 1.00-3.56 in Lesotho aOR 2.06, 95% CI 1.23-3.46 in Swaziland), and higher numbers of male anal sex partners within the past 12 months (aOR 1.27, 95% CI 1.01-1.59 per 5 partners in Lesotho∗aOR 2.98, 95% CI 1.51-5.89 in Swaziland) were significantly associated with meeting sex partners online in both countries. Additional country-specific associations included increasing knowledge about HIV transmission, feeling afraid to seek health care services, thinking that family members gossiped, and having a prevalent HIV infection among MSM in Lesotho.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere129
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 May 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • HIV
  • Internet
  • Male homosexuality
  • Sexual behavior
  • Social stigma
  • Southern Africa


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