On June 23, 2004 HIV In Site and the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies convened a panel of experts to discuss the increasing popularity of the Internet as a medium to meet sexual partners among men who have sex with men.
Most of us are here because we are probably familiar with the recent studies that report high rates of unprotected sex and outbreaks of STDs among men who meet other men in Internet chat rooms.
But we are here to address the questions of why this is the case, what evidence there is to support these studies and these trends, and to set out what makes Internet chat rooms different from other venues.
The roundtable discussion today is about MSM, sex and Internet chat rooms.
My name is Mark Vogel and I am the project manager at HIV In Site, and I will be the moderator of today's discussion.
And we really ask people how they thought the Internet was affecting their sexual behaviors and to the T, almost everyone said that it has been increasing the number of partners they have and then either look at that as something really positive-that it is convenient, it is accessible, that it is sort of the greatest thing-and other people are sort of indicating some level of frustration with that, well, while they can get their physical needs met pretty easily, sometimes their unexpressed needs around intimacy might not be getting met, although that can be true in other venues as well, but I think the explosion in the number of partners people are meeting online is really changing that for some of the guys that we have been interviewing.
MV: So, what sort of comparisons can we make between Internet chat rooms and other venues where the goal the sort of the same and very obvious, such as sex clubs; there are sex clubs in the City and a lot of other cities.So I would like to welcome all of the panelists today and thank you for joining us here. There are also higher rates of men reporting STD infections, who are using chat rooms, and so it is a very consistent finding that a lot of different studies and a lot of different research groups are picking up that these higher rates are existing.I am going to go ahead and begin with the first set of questions. Greg Rebchook: Sure, I can start addressing that question about evidence that MSM recruited from online venues or using chat rooms have higher rates of, or they are reporting higher rates of, unprotected anal intercourse with their partners than men in other venues. Our own data actually show that even when you are controlling for the number of sexual partners that men are having, that Internet use still contributes to unprotected sex significantly, even controlling for the number of sex partners. Jeff Klausner: We first identified the association of Internet use and STD transmission in 1999 during an outbreak investigation of a cluster of syphilis cases among gay men here in San Francisco.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.