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Frank Strona: One of the things to keep in mind with Internet behavior is there is a perception of anonymity.

Joining me today are several individuals, all of whom either as public health officials, researchers, safe sex advocates or some combination thereof, have a particular interest and expertise in Internet chat room use among MSM. Frank has worked on men's sex and health issues for more than 15 years. He is assistant research psychologist and has studied and worked on a number of community-based interventions among gay men.

He is co-creator of a new website called Safe Sex City.com, which is a cyber-community geared towards creating a community of like-minded MSM who are committed to promoting and practicing of safe sex. He has conducted research on the role of the Internet in the sexual lives of MSM and has found a number of interesting trends that I am sure he will share with us in our discussion today.

It is a lot harder when you are working face-to-face because you have to sort of summon up the effort to talk to somebody and to break the ice and to ask them to come home with you; whereas the Internet, everybody is there for the same reason; it is very quick, it is very easy.

The other reason why I think that there are problems with communication via the Internet, is -- and I think it is really just a continuum of what is happening offline -- is that safer sex does not seem to hold much meaning on the Internet anymore.

And we really ask people how they thought the Internet was affecting their sexual behaviors and to the T, almost everyone said that it has been increasing the number of partners they have and then either look at that as something really positive-that it is convenient, it is accessible, that it is sort of the greatest thing-and other people are sort of indicating some level of frustration with that, well, while they can get their physical needs met pretty easily, sometimes their unexpressed needs around intimacy might not be getting met, although that can be true in other venues as well, but I think the explosion in the number of partners people are meeting online is really changing that for some of the guys that we have been interviewing.

MV: So, what sort of comparisons can we make between Internet chat rooms and other venues where the goal the sort of the same and very obvious, such as sex clubs; there are sex clubs in the City and a lot of other cities.

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.

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.

The downside of that is, more often than not, in such small locations that we have, you end up knowing who the people are even before you see the face shot, and once you get more and more comfortable and you find less and less fear based on whatever program you are in, you start to change those images.

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.