Open Access Research article

Sexual relationships among men who have sex with men in Hanoi, Vietnam: a qualitative interview study

Linus Bengtsson1*, Anna Thorson1, Vu Pham Nguyen Thanh2, Peter Allebeck3 and Rebecca Popenoe4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health Sciences, Karolinska Institutet, Nobels väg 9, Stockholm, SE-171 77, Sweden

2 Department of Public Health and Environment, Institute of Sociology, 27 Tran Xuan Soan, Hanoi, Vietnam

3 Department of Public Health Sciences, Karolinska Institutet, Division of Social Medicine, 17176, Stockholm, Sweden

4 Division of Nursing, Department of Neurobiology, Caring Sciences and Society, Karolinska Institutet, 23 300, Huddinge, 141 83, Sweden

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:108  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-108

Published: 5 February 2013



The prevalence of HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Vietnam’s two largest cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, may be above 10%. The aim of this study was to explore sexual relationship patterns and experiences among MSM in Hanoi, to inform HIV preventive efforts. Using purposive sampling we recruited 17 MSM in Hanoi, Vietnam, for in-depth interviews. Participants were aged between 19 and 48 years and came from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. Interviews were tape-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and translated into English. Content analysis was used.


Almost all men in the study saw their same-sex attraction as part of their "nature". Many informants had secret but rich social lives within the MSM social circles in Hanoi. However, poor men had difficulties connecting to these networks. Lifetime sexual partner numbers ranged from one to 200. Seven participants had at some point in their lives been in relationships lasting from one to four years. For several men, relationships were not primarily centered on romantic feelings but instead intimately connected to economic and practical dependence. Sexual relationships varied greatly in terms of emotional attachment, commitment, trust, relationship ideals, sexual satisfaction and exchange of money or gifts. Faithfulness was highly valued but largely seen as unobtainable. Several informants felt strong family pressure to marry a woman and have children.


This study contextualizes sexual relationships among MSM in Hanoi and highlights the extent to which HIV prevention activities need to not only consider HIV prevention in the context of casual sexual encounters but also how to adequately target preventive efforts that can reach MSM in relationships.