The center’s research endeavors have been funded almost exclusively by NIH grants. The experience of living with HIV as a chronic illness, the psychosocial challenges facing sexual minorities, the health risks associated with disengagement from medical care, and the ways in which new technologies are influencing the development of intimate relationships and sexual risk behaviors are topics the center’s research team has being exploring over the past five years.

Recent Projects

Online Partnering of Heterosexuals and HIV Risk

Funding source: National Institute of Mental Health
Principal Investigators: Karolynn Siegel and Helen-Maria Lekas

Study goals: With the proliferation of online dating and hook-up sites, concerns have been raised that the Internet may be a risk environment for HIV/STI. The goal of this project is to examine the ways in which the internet facilitates risky sexual pursuits and the establishment of casual or ongoing sexual relationships among heterosexuals. Two main areas of interest are: first, the use of heuristics and on- and off-line strategies heterosexuals use to assess the potential risk of engaging in sex with a partner met online, and second, the identification of the features of meeting prospective partners online that promote unsafe encounters. The study also aims to refine the Theory of Sexual Scripts by generating a theory of sexual cyberscripting.  Data was collected online and through telephone interviews.

Understanding Discontinuation of Care among HIV-positive Inpatients

Funding source: National Institute of Mental Health
Principal Investigators: Helen-Maria Lekas and Lisa Metsch

Study goals: Engagement in outpatient care is critical component of the HIV care continuum. The goal of this project is to identify the barriers patients confront in engaging with and remaining in HIV outpatient medical care. Focusing on hospitalized patients that have not consistently received medical care, this primarily qualitative investigation reveals how the interplay between structural constraints/opportunities and life choices shape the patients’ health practices, lifestyles and ultimately, morbidity and mortality. The two most innovative features of this project are the collection of data through bedside interviews and the use of Cockerham’s Theory of Health Lifestyle to frame the data collection and analysis.

Desire for Pregnancy, Contraception, and HIV Risk among Serodiscordant/ Seroconcordant Couples

Funding source: National Institute of Child and Human Development
Principal Investigators: Karolynn Siegel and Helen-Maria Lekas

Study goals:  HIV serodiscordant and concordant couples confront unique challenges in consistently practicing safer sex. The goal of this project is to understand the contraceptive, reproductive and sexual behavior among heterosexual HIV serodiscordant and seroconcordant couples. Through individual and dyadic qualitative interview data, this project identifies the factors that contribute to the sexual risk-taking and reproductive dilemmas confronting couples that are contending with HIV. The study focuses on identifying the complex ways in which these couples think, feel, negotiate and communicate about their desire for having a child, not using contraception and engaging in unsafe sexual behavior in the context of risking horizontal and vertical transmission of HIV. The project also aims to further refine the Theory of Gender and Power by examining whether the couples’ HIV serodiscordant or seroconcordant status alongside gender serves as another axis along which power in the relationship is distributed.  

Men who have Sex with Men and Women: Pathways, Motives, and Hidden Behaviors

Funding source:  National Institute of Mental Health
Principal Investigator:  Karolynn Siegel

Whether men who have sex with men and women (MSMW), but do not disclose their same sex behavior to their female partners, acquire HIV infection from their male partners and transmit it to their female partners has been raised as a public health concern. This project is a 3.5-year NIMH-funded study of an ethnically diverse sample of "men on the down low." Specifically, the study will interview 200 non-gay identified men who have sex with men and women (MSMW) who have not disclosed their same-sex behavior to their wives and girlfriends. Of critical interest is whether non-disclosing MSMW may engaging in sexual risk behaviors with both their male and female partners, potentially serving as a "bisexual bridge" for HIV acquisition and transmission to their female partners. Other aims include understanding the different psychosocial needs fulfilled by sexual relationships with men and women and the strategies MSMW use to conceal their same-sex behaviors.

Use of Smartphone Apps for Sexual Partnering among MSM

Funding Source:  National Institute of Mental Health
Principal Investigators:  Eric Schrimshaw and Karolynn Siegel

Increasingly MSM are using smartphone apps to hook-up with for sexual encounters and concerns have been raised whether this will contribute to riskier sexual behavior. This project is a 2-year NIMH-funded study of an ethnically diverse sample of men who have sex with men who use smartphone applications (e.g., Grindr) for meeting sexual partners. Of critical interest is the prevalence of smartphone use for sexual partnering among MSM, comparison of smartphone and Internet-based sexual partnering on number of sexual partners and sexual risk behaviors, and the contexts and motives that contribute to sexual partnering using smartphone applications.

Comparisons of Sexual Profile Content of MSM Who Use Smartphone Apps or Internet Websites for Sexual Partnering

Funding Source:  Calderone Research Prize for Junior Faculty
Principal Investigator:  Eric Schrimshaw

Smartphone technologies have provided a new venue for sexual partnering among men who have sex with men (MSM). Despite the nearly ubiquitous nature of these apps among MSM, very little research has examined this phenomenon. It is currently unclear how men present themselves and what they are looking for on these apps, and whether this self-presentation differs from those on Internet websites. To examine these issues a sample of 1000 personal advertisements were sampled using principles of time-space sampling. These profiles will be quantitatively content analyzed to examine the extent to which MSM describe condom use, HIV status, drug use, and other sexual risk related issues in their profiles. Understanding self-presentation on these apps is critical to understanding whether apps may differ from websites in facilitating sexual risk behaviors. Knowledge about the differences in profile content between apps and websites will provide the basis for the development of interventions that are focused on, or include the promotion of open sexual communication to reduce miscommunication and assumptions that could lead to sexual risk behaviors.