Frank Strona: One of the things to keep in mind with Internet behavior is there is a perception of anonymity.
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.
It was actually one of the first published studies of a strong association between Internet sex partnering and syphilis transmission.
As part of that study, we continued to monitor the use of Internet chat rooms and Internet sites among syphilis case patients and non-patients seen at the STD clinic in San Francisco and how about half of new cases have met recent partners online and the Internet sites have continued to be a place where we focus prevention efforts.
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.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.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.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.