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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.
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.
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.
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.
You get on line, you want to get laid, you can have somebody at your house within an hour -- probably less in San Francisco! If you are experience is one that you are not crazy about, you can get back online and you can find somebody else to come over or to go to their house afterwards.
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.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.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.It could be something as simple as a run away script or learning how to better use E-utilities, for more efficient work such that your work does not impact the ability of other researchers to also use our site.