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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.
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.
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.
It is a lot harder when you are working face-to-face because you have to sort of summon up the effort to talk to somebody and to break the ice and to ask them to come home with you; whereas the Internet, everybody is there for the same reason; it is very quick, it is very easy.
The other reason why I think that there are problems with communication via the Internet, is -- and I think it is really just a continuum of what is happening offline -- is that safer sex does not seem to hold much meaning on the Internet anymore.
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.
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.