Concern about AIDS appeared in most European countries soon after this new disease was discovered in 1981. In Europe, as in North America, gay communities were the first to be affected and to engage in the fight against AIDS. Because of the seriousness of the epidemic and fear of discrimination, they quickly mobilized to disseminate preventive messages, take care of people with HIV/AIDS, call for treatments, and so on. The spread of the pandemic was paralleled by a wealth of research on sexual behaviour, risk practices and prevention among gay men (Pollak et al., 1994) and, later, injecting drug users (Rezza et al., 1994). The need for general population campaigns was not felt in most European countries until 1985 (Wellings and Field, 1996). Based on the idea that everyone should be concerned about HIV/AIDS prevention, these campaigns targeted the entire population due to fear that HIV might have spread widely beyond the primary ‘risk’ groups and a desire to avoid stigmatizing these same risk groups.
In this context, many European countries realized that, outside specific studies on gay men and injecting drug users, little was known about the prevalence of various types of HIV/AIDS risk-related behaviour, or indeed sexual behaviour in general, in their national populations. They thus decided to fill the information gap by engaging in large-scale population surveys for the first time. 1 Exceptional investments were made in such surveys in Europe,
*I should like to thank Casimiro Marques Balsa who coordinated with me the European Concerted Action of which this book is one of the outcomes and took an active part in designing and running the project. Many thanks to all the survey investigators who kindly provided access to their research material and information about their surveys. The members of the Research Network for Comparative Research in Europe (Rencore) also provided numerous references and advice to help place the studies reported here in the larger tradition of comparative research.