The EC Concerted Action on Sexual Behaviour and Risks of HIV Infection focuses on two complementary aims: a) making cross-national analyses of sexual behaviour and attitudes towards HIV risk based on data from general population surveys in several European countries, b) exploring new conceptual perspectives for understanding sexual behaviour and risk taking.
The rapid spread of AIDS over the past ten years showed the need for a better understanding of sexual behaviour and attitudes toward risk, and the lack of research in this field. During this period, many studies have been completed in Europe, as in many other parts of the world, and have provided useful information for prevention and epidemiological forecasting. Comparing and contrasting empirical findings, methodologies and conceptual frameworks is useful in validating findings, avoiding duplication, and assisting in the adoption of reliable instruments. In Europe, several initiatives were taken to give the researchers the opportunity to meet and cooperate. An important role was played by the Social and Behavioral Research Unit of GPA/WHO and within some European concerted actions including ‘Assessing AIDS prevention’ coordinated by the Institut de medecine sociale et preventive of Lausanne.
The Concerted Action on Sexual Behaviour and Risks of HIV infection takes place in this context of growing international cooperation and will be completed at the end of 1994. Its goal is to contribute to the development of a European scientific community which studies sexual behaviour and attitudes toward the risk of HIV infection. Considering past and ongoing projects, two objectives were formulated:
a) Making cross-national analyses of sexual behaviour throughout Europe from the perspective of HIV risk.
Researchers are now comparing and contrasting cross-national sexual behaviour studies. They will write a report that includes a basic description of behaviours and attitudes towards HIV risk in Europe, methodological issues related to conducting sexual behaviour surveys, recommendations for further research, and policy implications of the findings.
b) Exploring new conceptual perspectives for understanding sexual behaviour and attitudes to HIV risk.
Different conceptual approaches to why individuals engage in safe or unsafe sex is being explored. The emphasis is on frameworks that elaborate the importance of social and relational determinants of sexual behaviour. Basic assumptions and operationalizations of key factors are discussed. Researchers will note the ability of different frameworks to explain perceived risk of HIV/AIDS and sexual behaviour, and they will suggest their relevance for creating and improving HIV prevention programs.