Background: Some men who have sex with men (MSM) meet and have sex with male partners at gay saunas, the connections between which are little explored for designing HIV prevention measures. This study aims to describe the network configuration of gay saunas and explore its relationship with risk behavior of MSM in the respective sauna communities, in the city of Hong Kong.
Methods: Using venue-based sampling, 205 MSM were recruited in 8 saunas in July 2011 for a cross-sectional anonymous questionnaire survey. A network of saunas was constructed based on the proportion of clients shared between them. Core saunas with higher intensity of linkages were delineated from core-periphery analysis. Men who have sex with men in core saunas were compared with those in peripheral ones in terms of their demographics and risk behavioral profiles.
Results: Eight core saunas were differentiated from a highly connected sauna network, consisting of 13 saunas with a diameter of 2. Men who have sex with men visiting core saunas were more likely to be younger and users of the Internet for sex networking (odds ratio, 5.43; 95% confidence interval, 1.84–16.01). On average, they visited 1.7 saunas and had 2.6 sauna partners over a 1-month period, which were both significantly higher than those for MSM in peripheral saunas. However, there was no association between having unprotected anal sex and visiting core saunas. Sauna affiliation patterns were age dependent and geographically related.
Conclusions: Saunas were not homogeneously connected with each other. Prioritization may be considered so that public health interventions can be targeted at saunas in denser networks. An assortative mixing in age among MSM in sauna community informs planning for client-specific venue-based prevention programs.