HIV Prevention Efforts Should Focus on the Internet

HIV is disproportionately high among gay men. Evidence suggests that men who have sex with men (MSM) are over 40 times more likely to develop HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases as a result of having unprotected sex than heterosexual men. These men are more likely to experience negative social and mental health consequences as well, including depression and discrimination. Raising the awareness of this risk and educating MSM is critical to decreasing the number of HIV cases among MSM. Community health organizations have tried to reach this segment of the population through public media messages. However, it is important to target this group of men where they are most likely to engage in unsafe sex. Therefore, Christian Grov of the Department of Health and Nutrition Sciences at Brooklyn College at the City University of New York recently led a study to determine where MSM most commonly meet their sexual partners.

Grov conducted an internet survey targeting gay men and asked them where they were most likely to seek out other sexual partners and what their attitudes toward HIV risk prevention were. Grov also asked how often the men were under the influence of drugs and alcohol when they engaged in unprotected sex. Based on the results of the internet survey, Grov found that the three most common places that MSM met other MSM were bathhouses, bars, and on internet sites such as Craigslist. Most of the men surveyed did express an interest in receiving information on HIV and substance use prevention; however, the men in bars were least likely to be willing to accept this information. The findings revealed that despite current efforts to inform MSM about the dangers of unprotected sex, 43% of the men surveyed still practiced sex without the use of a condom.

Of all three venues in which MSM find sexual partners, Craigslist was reported as the most commonly used method. Even men who eventually met other men in bars or in bathhouses said that they discovered these locations through internet searches. Therefore, Grov believes it is important for health organizations to focus their prevention messages on the internet. For men in bathhouses, verbal communication is limited, and health providers may choose to concentrate on keeping their prevention efforts targeted to condom distribution. The men who commonly meet up in bars were the most likely to also report drug or alcohol use prior to sex. Grov said, “Taken together, these findings suggest that any preventative information targeted in bars and clubs should focus on illustrating the connection between substances and sexual behavior.” In sum, these findings demonstrate the need for more HIV awareness strategies for MSM overall in order to decrease the spread of HIV.

Grov, C., Crow, T. (2012). Attitudes about and HIV risk related to the ‘most common place’ MSM meet their sex partners: Comparing men from bathhouses, bars/clubs, and Craigslist.Org. AIDS Education & Prevention 24.2, 102-116.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Zane

    April 19th, 2012 at 4:12 AM

    I don’t mean to be offensive, but is there really a need to try to spread any more word about the risk of HIV with unprotected sex, especially in this country? I think that in the 30 years since the disease appeared there has been tons of information that has been shared with all parts of the population, especially those where the numbers are rampant, like the gay male community and those who use IV drugs. If they are not taking the information to heart and doing the things they need to do to protect themselves then that is their fault. The information is out there, and doing any more just seems like overkill. They know how the disease is spread and the things that they need to do to be more careful, but they choosse not to. Do we really want to spend even more money on a message that obviously so few people are paying attention to?

  • lesley u

    April 19th, 2012 at 12:17 PM

    The internet is always going to be a good outreach tool, especially among a younger population

  • carroll

    April 19th, 2012 at 4:49 PM

    HIV is still an epidemic in many cities but it is out of sight out of mind for those of us who live in smaller and more rural communities. Most of us have never been affected by this disease in the way that larger cities have. But when you think about the ways that this is still spreading worldwide it won’t be long until sadly many more of us will have to say that we have lost someone close to us from AIDS. The saddest thing about all of this is that it is so preventable, but we are not taking the steps that need to be taken to halt the progression. We talk about not wanting to teach our kids about safe sex or even sex at all, but they are the ones who have to know otherwise the numbers are going to continue to grow. And if the internet is the best way to reach out to them then do it. But so it at home and in schools too, because we want the messge to be reinforced as much as possible that this is a disease that we can control and get a handle on.

  • Alan

    April 19th, 2012 at 11:39 PM

    So somebody who is drinking and could possibly have unprotected sex is going to read messages or advice in a bar? I don’t think so. Awareness needs to be given out and spread everyday everywhere. Only then will people learn. That will also remove the negativity many people have towards gay people.

  • SharonW

    April 20th, 2012 at 5:40 PM

    I agree with Alan. This can’t be a program that is worked by hanging notices on the bulletin board. This message needs to be reinforced time and again to make an impact that is lasting.

  • bryce

    April 21st, 2012 at 2:27 PM

    shocked that so many men are still resorting to such blatantly unsafe behavior as hooking up with sex partners online

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