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.
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.
So I would like to welcome all of the panelists today and thank you for joining us here. There are also higher rates of men reporting STD infections, who are using chat rooms, and so it is a very consistent finding that a lot of different studies and a lot of different research groups are picking up that these higher rates are existing.
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.
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.
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.