How to improve the validity of sexual behaviour reporting: systematic review of questionnaire delivery modes in developing countries

Trop Med Int Health. 2010 Mar;15(3):362-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3156.2009.02464.x.


Objectives: To systematically review comparative research from developing countries on the effects of questionnaire delivery mode.

Methods: We searched Medline, EMbase and PsychINFO and ISSTDR conference proceedings. Randomized control trials and quasi-experimental studies were included if they compared two or more questionnaire delivery modes, were conducted in a developing country, reported on sexual behaviours and occurred after 1980.

Results: A total of 28 articles reporting on 26 studies met the inclusion criteria. Heterogeneity of reported trial outcomes between studies made it inappropriate to combine trial outcomes. Eighteen studies compared audio computer-assisted survey instruments (ACASI) or its derivatives [personal digital assistant (PDA) or computer-assisted personal interview (CAPI)] against another self-administered questionnaires, face-to-face interviews or random response technique. Despite wide variation in geography and populations sampled, there was strong evidence that computer-assisted interviews lowered item-response rates and raised rates of reporting sensitive behaviours. ACASI also improved data entry quality. A wide range of sexual behaviours were reported including vaginal, oral, anal and/or forced sex, age of sexual debut, condom use at first and/or last sex. Validation of self-reports using biomarkers was rare.

Conclusions: These data reaffirm that questionnaire delivery modes do affect self-reported sexual behaviours and that use of ACASI can significantly reduce reporting bias. Its acceptability and feasibility in developing country settings should encourage researchers to consider its use when conducting sexual health research. Triangulation of self-reported data using biomarkers is recommended. Standardizing sexual behaviour measures would allow for meta-analysis.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Data Collection / methods
  • Developing Countries
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control
  • Health Services Research / methods*
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*
  • Truth Disclosure*