Sexual networks: the integration of social and genetic data

Soc Sci Med. 1998 Dec;47(12):1981-92. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(98)00306-2.


New methods for studying sexual networks are presented, drawing upon routine procedures followed in genitourinary medicine clinics in the UK for tracing partners and identifying strains of infection. The routine social procedures were developed to incorporate a structured interview. The routine microbiological diagnosis of gonorrhoea was augmented by phenotyping and the development of new genetic techniques for the fine discrimination of gonococcal strains (opa-typing). Selected results from a study in Sheffield, UK show that each method has limitations, when conducted separately, but these are minimised when the methods are combined. Moreover, the use of simple and routine methods of data collection resolve issues of scale and sample that have beset other network studies, as they provide a means of covering a larger and defined population. Popular concepts about these methods are discussed in the conclusion. The integrated approach employed in our research raises questions both about social methods, 'of people who lie, particularly when they talk about sex', and about microbiological methods, 'of genes that tell the truth' and bypass what people say and think altogether. We argue that these stereotypes are misleading insofar as they suggest that genetic techniques can substitute for the social, and we suggest that even the finest discrimination of organisms at the genetic level will never obviate the need for their interpretation in the light of social data.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bacterial Typing Techniques*
  • Contact Tracing / methods*
  • England
  • Female
  • Gonorrhea / microbiology*
  • Gonorrhea / prevention & control
  • Gonorrhea / transmission*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / genetics*
  • Reproducibility of Results