Mentoring young african american men and transgender women who have sex with men on sexual health: Formative research for an HIV mobile health intervention for mentors

Michelle R. Kaufman, Albert Casella, John Mark Wiginton, Wenjian Xu, David L. DuBois, Renata Arrington-Sanders, Jeannette Simon, Deb Levine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: African American men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women bear a disproportionate burden of HIV. Young MSM account for 75% of this burden for youth. When youths lack socially protective resources such as strong networks of adults, including parents, teachers, or community members, mentors may play a critical role in promoting health behaviors. This is especially true for youth at risk for HIV, such as African American youth with sexual and gender minority (SGM) identities. In the past decade, natural mentoring and mentoring programs have proliferated as a key prevention and intervention strategy to improve outcomes for young people at risk for poor academic, social, and health issues. Mentors appear to be able to facilitate health promotion among young SGM by modeling healthy behaviors; however, mentors’ knowledge and resource needs regarding sexual health topics including HIV are understudied, as is the potential role of mobile technology in enhancing mentoring relationships and the ability of mentors to learn about sensitive issues faced by youth. Objective: The aim of this study is to explore how mentoring plays a role in the sexual health of African American SGM youth and understand how mentoring relationships can be strengthened through mobile technology to promote youth HIV prevention behaviors. Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with African American SGM youth mentees (n=17) and mentors (n=20) to such youths in 3 Mid-Atlantic cities. Mentee interviews focused on discussions regarding sexual health and HIV and how a mentor could broach such topics. Mentor interviews explored whether sexual health and HIV are currently mentoring topics, mentors’ knowledge and confidence in mentoring on these issues, and barriers to discussions. All participants were asked if a mobile app could help facilitate mentoring on sensitive health issues, particularly HIV and sexual health. Data were transcribed, coded, and analyzed for relevant themes. Results: Sexual health was a common topic in mentoring relationships, occurring more in natural mentorships than in mentoring program pairs. Mentors and mentees felt positive about such discussions. Mentors expressed having limited knowledge beyond condom use and HIV testing, and expressed a need for more complete resources. Both mentors and mentees had mixed comfort levels when discussing sexual health. Sufficient trust and shared lived experiences made discussions easier. Mentees have multifaceted needs; however, mentors stated that an app resource that provided self-training, resources, support from other mentors, and tips for better mentoring could prove beneficial. Conclusions: For the African American SGM community, access to natural mentors is crucial for young people to learn healthy behaviors. A mobile resource to assist mentors in confidently having discussions with mentees may be a promising way to promote healthy practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere17317
JournalJMIR Formative Research
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • African Americans
  • HIV
  • MHealth
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Mentoring
  • Mobile app
  • Transgender

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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