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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.
I am going to go ahead and begin with the first set of questions. Greg Rebchook: Sure, I can start addressing that question about evidence that MSM recruited from online venues or using chat rooms have higher rates of, or they are reporting higher rates of, unprotected anal intercourse with their partners than men in other venues. Our own data actually show that even when you are controlling for the number of sexual partners that men are having, that Internet use still contributes to unprotected sex significantly, even controlling for the number of sex partners. Jeff Klausner: We first identified the association of Internet use and STD transmission in 1999 during an outbreak investigation of a cluster of syphilis cases among gay men here in San Francisco.
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.
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.
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.
Frank Strona: One of the things to keep in mind with Internet behavior is there is a perception of anonymity.
Not all chat rooms for lesbians revolve around dating and meeting other women.