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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.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.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.
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.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.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.
Whereas a lot of people in their profiles will put down "safer sex only," then they meet up, that means we do not have to have a discussion about it because, let's say I responded to an ad that said "safer sex only" or we both wrote "safer sex only." However, for me, "safer sex" is "no unprotected anal intercourse" and, for you, "safer sex" is "no anal intercourse at all." And then that is not being discussed. MV: So, is there a misperception with the Internet where it seems clear that you can say, "I'm HIV-negative, STD-free" but that does not get into when you were last tested or what that means for you, and so that it appears that it is all out there in the open but it is really not being addressed?