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MSM Flock to Internet to Find Sexual Partners
by Jon Garbo

When it comes to logging onto the Internet to look for sexual partners, men who have sex with men (MSM) outnumber exclusively heterosexual men almost two-to-one, according to a study published in the June 2001 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Is finding sex partners from the Internet twice as risky as meeting people at a bar?
Researchers from the Denver Department of Public Health in Denver, CO analyzed data from an online sexual risk survey posted in 2000. The survey, which was taken by 1,380 MSM and 1,865 non-MSM, inquired about online and offline sexual practices. All respondents were 18 years of age or older and lived in North America.

The survey found that 86 percent of MSM went online to find sexual partners (of either gender), compared to 46 percent of non-MSM. In the 12 months prior to the survey, MSM reported an average of nine sexual partners whom they met online, compared to 4.2 Internet partners for non-MSM.

In addition, the survey found that MSM tend to find male sexual partners online, but female sex partners offline, suggesting that the Internet "facilitates same-sex behaviors that may be happening anyway," Sheana Bull, Ph.D., M.P.H., the study’s principal investigator, told "We’ve found consistently that men going online tend to be using the Internet for sexual contact with other men."

Though MSM had higher numbers of partners, they used condoms more often than non-MSM respondents, according to the study. Around 71 percent of MSM used condoms for anal or vaginal sex during their last encounter with an online partner, compared to 46 percent of non-MSM.

While the relatively consistent use of condoms among MSM is "a positive finding," said Dr. Bull, MSM remain at risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. "They’re still not using condoms 100 percent of the time, and there are more sexual partners involved."

Dr. Bull underscored the urgency of safer-sex practices by citing a separate study she conducted, which found the overall risk of STIs from online partners to be greater than the risk from offline partners. The study appeared in the July 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"The question is raised: What is the risk from an encounter with a partner from the Internet? Is it twice the risk of meeting people at a bar? We don’t know yet," concluded Dr. Bull, who leads ongoing studies on the topic.

Updated: Tuesday, June 5th 2001

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