The rates of HIV and STIs are alarmingly high among the gay and bisexual community. In New York City, the rates are even higher, as there is a large concentration of bisexual and gay men in New York. In an effort to combat this health dilemma, researchers have begun to look at ways in which men navigate online dating sites with respect to condom use and HIV/STI disclosure with online partners. The internet is a widely used tool for meeting sexual partners, and men who seek other men through internet sites tend to have more partners than those who do not. This increases their risk for HIV and STIs. Therefore, understanding the dialogue and barriers to disclosure and condom use that unfold on these sites is the first step in taking advantage of the internet as a method of decreasing STIs and increasing awareness and safe sex practices.
To get a clear picture of condom use, disclosure, and internet practices, Christian Grov of the Department of Health and Nutrition Sciences at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York recently interviewed 50 men seeking other male sexual partners through Craigslist.org. He asked them about their condom use, their level of disclosure, their HIV/STI status, and their level of trust when communicating with other men on the internet. Grov found that for the most part, the men said that they had strict rules about safe sex practices and always used condoms. The men reported that they liked using the internet to meet other men because they could find men who also believed in safe sex practices and that it was easier to navigate discussions about condoms and HIV/STIs through virtual means than it was in person.
When Grov compared the HIV-positive men to the HIV-negative men, he found that the HIV-negative men were much more willing to initiate status conversations and were more verbal about their opinions of HIV-positive men. There was a noticeable level of stigma present in these dialogues, and many of the men avoided talking about it and preferred to just list their status on their profile. “Finally, there was an underlying sentiment that emerged across themes with regard to distrust,” said Grov. It seems that they didn’t trust the statuses they saw online, and cited that as yet another reason they were committed to condom use when engaging in sex with men they met through the internet. Grov hopes these findings open up a conversation between website developers/administrators and intervention specialists about how to use the internet to inform and educate men about the dangers of unsafe sex and increase condom use, especially in the gay and bisexual communities.
Grov, Christian, Linda Agyemang, Ana Ventuneac, and Aaron S. Breslow. (2013). Navigating condom use and HIV status disclosure with partners met online: A qualitative pilot study with gay and bisexual men from Craigslist.org. AIDS Education & Prevention 25.1: 72-85. Print.
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