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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.
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.
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.
Participants: Philip Huang, Asian Health Service, Oakland, California; Jeff Klausner, MD, San Francisco Department of Public Health; Deb Levine, Internet Sexuality Information Services, San Francisco; Greg Rebchook, UCSF Center for AIDS Prevention Studies; Frank Strona, Mark Vogel: Welcome to today's roundtable discussion sponsored by HIV In Site and The Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, both at UCSF.
That does not make you a "local" community organization tied to that particularly community, which then creates a challenge in terms of working with the local sex venue to say, "Okay, we would like you to put up more posters." They are there to make money and they are going to after the situation that is going to cause their membership the least trauma, the least discomfort and the least reality, in some cases.
JK: In our work, it seems that people who attend sex clubs and seek sex at sex clubs seem to be somewhat different than people who are seeking sex online, different from people who may seek sex through more kind of casual street-based or social encounters, and surprisingly, there is actually not a lot of overlap.
What sort of trends or similarities do you see in terms of behavior, safety, and expectations? One is I do think it is important to recognize that when people are hooking up, when they are meeting each other online and then going home, that it is happening in an environment that has traditionally been isolated from HIV prevention messages and that whatever your perceptions are of the campaigns that are going on currently in the bars and bath houses, there are posters there; there are condoms available there; there are very visible and active campaigns happening in many communities across the U. And at some point, in some of the communities where we were asking people online if they were aware of online HIV prevention campaigns, many of the participants said they were not aware or they had not seen them because, I mean, I think the Internet is so large that it takes a really concerted effort to make your presence known and so that when hookups are being arranged completely outside of the arena that HIV prevention campaigns have hit, I think that is worth talking about.
PS: It is also important, I think, to keep in mind that these websites are businesses -- the owners are out making money.
Frank Strona: One of the things to keep in mind with Internet behavior is there is a perception of anonymity.
It is a cultural norm to be able to put a photograph in the profile out there that does not have a face, it does not have a name associated and I think that there is a level of personal safety that you believe you have, giving the fact that you think people cannot identify you.
Deb Levine is the Executive Director of Internet Sexuality Information Services, or ISIS, which has contracted with the City and County of San Francisco to provide syphilis elimination services to men who have sex with men in the City, and also to identify their partners on the Internet.
ISIS has worked with online providers to provide online prevention initiatives. have documented high rates of unprotected sex among men recruited from online venues and there are several European studies that have looked at comparing, guys who say that they actually are using chat rooms to those that are not using chat rooms and there is a lot of information, a lot of data, showing that the chat room users are actually reporting higher rates of unprotected sex than the non-chat room users.
Right now, recent data show that more than 80% of sexually active MSM who meet new partners are meeting online in San Francisco, and then what Deb mentioned is approximation that allows people in dense urban areas who are interested to meet up very quickly in a short amount of time.