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Talking about sex in Botswana: social desirability bias and possible implications for HIV-prevention research

Kata Chillag
Greg Guest
Arwen Bunce
Laura Johnson
Peter H Kilmarx
Dawn K Smith


Evaluations of the safety, effectiveness, and feasibility of HIV prevention interventions rely on self-reported sexual behaviour data. The accuracy of such data has sometimes been questioned. The absence of a so-called objective measure of sexual behaviour complicates this. Social desirability bias (SDB) is a key factor affecting the accuracy of self-reports. Individual, semi-structured interviews focusing on possible causes of and solutions to SDB were conducted with 30 Batswana women such as those who might enrol in planned vaginal microbicide trials. Respondents pointed to shame and the fear of public talk about them as key factors contributing to inaccurate self-reports, and they stressed the importance of privacy and confidentiality. Interviewer characteristics such as age, gender and personality were often viewed as likely to affect their candour. Alternative interviewing techniques such as audio computer-assisted self-interviewing (ACASI) were appealing to some for the potential to reduce embarrassment; others were sceptical. The possible implications for HIV-prevention research are presented.

Keywords: ACASI, Africa, clinical trials, methodological issues, qualitative methods, sexual behaviour, interview techniques

African Journal of AIDS Research 2006, 5(2): 123–131