Joining me today are several individuals, all of whom either as public health officials, researchers, safe sex advocates or some combination thereof, have a particular interest and expertise in Internet chat room use among MSM. Frank has worked on men's sex and health issues for more than 15 years. He is assistant research psychologist and has studied and worked on a number of community-based interventions among gay men.He is co-creator of a new website called Safe Sex City.com, which is a cyber-community geared towards creating a community of like-minded MSM who are committed to promoting and practicing of safe sex. He has conducted research on the role of the Internet in the sexual lives of MSM and has found a number of interesting trends that I am sure he will share with us in our discussion today.The Internet affords anonymity (There is a great New Yorker slide that says, "On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog.") So you can be whoever you want to be on the Internet.Internet partnering has become very acceptable, so that it has become the new relative norm of how to meet partners.Okay, so then you get together and you think that you are going to have a particular kind of experience, you are already there, you are already aroused, you give up some of the discussion because it is much easier to just follow through and then afterwards you are like, "Man, you know? Internet access to places where you can meet sex partners is very affordable.It is a lot cheaper to just go online and go to a chat room than to get up, go out of the house and go to a bar or a club or some other venue.But I really do think a lot of it is based on comfort level of perceived anonymity. I do not want to start off by blaming the Internet and saying, you know, "This medium is the reason that there are higher transmission rates." It is yet another way that men can meet men and a lot of the people who are meeting men on the Internet are also meeting men in bars and clubs and bath houses and parks and everywhere else. Adding to that, though, the Internet allows men to meet each other faster.
GR: I just want to add that we have been doing online qualitative interviews with gay and bisexual men or men who have sex with men they meet in Internet chat rooms, or that we were recruiting from Internet chat rooms, and even the guys in rural America are saying that, you know, "I can get online, and in 45 minutes, I can have someone tied up to my bedpost..." So, you know, this is not just in San Francisco or New York; we are seeing this phenomenon in many other places in the country as well.
So you can write your profile as a modified code, hoping other people will read it the same way and then you can have a combination of emails exchanged or messages exchanged that allows you to kind of refine where and what behavior you choose to go to and then, if you want to have that next step, you can display your face.
The downside of that is, more often than not, in such small locations that we have, you end up knowing who the people are even before you see the face shot, and once you get more and more comfortable and you find less and less fear based on whatever program you are in, you start to change those images.
I wanted to start the discussion more with evidence because there might be people who are skeptical or do not really understand what evidence there is out there that men who have sex with men and meet their sexual partners online have higher rates of unprotected sex and sexually transmitted diseases. We did a case-control study, which is kind of your typical type of evaluation to determine what risk factors are associated with cases and non-cases.
In this investigation, we found that 67% of these syphilis cases versus 19% of matched men who were non-syphilis cases had met recent partners in the chat room, and this was a statistically significant association.