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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.
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.
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.
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.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.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.