In sum, focus groups are a useful tool for exploring previously under- investigated areas because they allow the researcher to canvass the opinions and experiences of a range of people simultaneously, to discover the issues which are of importance to the participants, and to hear these issues dis- cussed relatively quickly. Yeah, I used to do that a lot. So are girls your age not on the pull? Girls are always on the pull Jan: Advocates point out that focus groups are an effective method of generating hypotheses or investigating topics about which little is known Bertrand et al. Not really [Laughter] Rose: Braun and Kitzinger, ; Mays et al.
One way to help guard against this is to raise these issues with the group and to involve participants in drawing up their own guidelines for privacy. In order to encourage this recipro- cal sharing of information, commentators recommend that groups should consist of people who have something in common — in the example above they are all of the same age, occupation, gender and sexual orientation Morgan, Why should we believe that anyone, sitting in a face-to-face interview with a stranger, would answer honestly when being questioned about his or her most intimate personal behaviour, including behaviour that might be embarrassing to admit? The following extracts illustrate how participants expand upon comments made by others. In each case, the woman characterises her experience in relation to previous comments: Focus groups have, for example, been used to identify gaps in exist- ing sexual health service provision including: While researchers have investigated sexual behaviour using a range of different methods including observation for example, Humphreys, ; Masters and Johnson, and experimentation Abel, et al. It is this sharing of experience in focus group research which has led some feminists to draw parallels with consciousness raising for example, Mies, ; Wilkinson, Focus groups can provide an opportunity for participants to talk about their own experiences and to hear the experiences of others. Braun and Kitzinger, ; Mays et al. For example, a national survey of sexuality in Britain included the following question and set responses: In such situations, focus groups can provide a useful alternative. Consequently, some researchers have expected people to be reticent about discussing sexual matters in groups. The value of focus groups in highlighting any mismatch between the language used by the target audience, by researchers, by policy makers and by service providers means that the use of focus groups to clarify terms for use in quantitative measures is perhaps one of the most common ways in which focus groups are currently being used in sex research. Despite the use of carefully prepared focus group schedules, the lively discussions which result often throw up un- anticipated areas of interest which can dramatically change the course of the research. Advocates point out that focus groups are an effective method of generating hypotheses or investigating topics about which little is known Bertrand et al. Nonetheless, knowing that other group members may have encountered similar situations may lead individuals to feel less inhibited about revealing information about their own lives. Exploratory research into under-researched topics In recent years sex research has been dominated by large-scale surveys. Such over-disclosure may be particularly problematic if members of the group are not strangers but have a con- tinued relationship outside of the group. In sum, researchers can encourage people to talk about highly personal and potentially embarrassing sexual experiences in a group setting if the group has some degree of similarity. When a topic is under-explored, detailed knowledge of this kind is not available. Girls are always on the pull Jan: Were the respondents telling the truth about their sex lives? In sum, focus groups are a useful tool for exploring previously under- investigated areas because they allow the researcher to canvass the opinions and experiences of a range of people simultaneously, to discover the issues which are of importance to the participants, and to hear these issues dis- cussed relatively quickly. In their focus groups on sexual risk taking, Vera et al. Not really [Laughter] Rose:
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