Gay internet cruisers no more likely to have unprotected anal sex, says study, but other risks up

Michael Carter
Published: 19 December 2003

Gay men who use the internet to seek sex are no more likely to have unprotected anal sex, the main risk activity for HIV transmission, than non-internet users, according to an exploratory study published in the December edition of Sexually Transmitted Infections. The study did, however find that gay men using the internet to meet sexual partners may have a modestly higher risk of being infected with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) given their greater likelihood to use certain recreational drugs and have group sex.

A number of earlier studies have found a connection between gay men using the internet to find sex and a greater risk of sexually transmitted infections (including HIV). Accordingly, investigators from Atlanta in the USA conducted an exploratory study to identify the associations between internet sex seeking and behaviour likely to put them at risk of an STI.

Throughout the summer of 2002, 150 gay men attending a sex resort were asked to complete a questionnaire which included 48 closed ended items designed to assess STI associated risk behaviours. Men were asked if they had used to internet to seek sex. They were then asked if they had had unprotected anal sex in the previous three months, how many men they had had sex with and if they had used certain recreational drugs (including poppers, cocaine and ecstasy), and if they had engaged in rimming or fisting.

Demographic data were also collected, including HIV status and whether not men were currently in a primary relationship.

The men recruited to the study had a median age of a little over 40 years, most were white (93), and 16.7% were HIV-positive. A little over a half said they were in a current relationship, the median duration of which was between three and five years. The men reporting having a mean of ten sex partners in the past three months, and 39% said that they had had an STI at some time. With average income between $25,000 - $50,000 a year, the men were financially comfortable.

When the investigators looked at the numbers of men using the internet who had had unprotected anal sex in the previous three months, they found that the proportion was not significantly higher than the percentage of men who reported no internet sex seeking (53% versus 45.8%, p=0.39). The investigators did, however, find that men who used the internet to find sex were significantly more likely to engage in fisting (22.4% versus 6.8%, p=01), and have had group sex (78.8% versus 44.1%, p=0.0001). Further, they found that internet cruisers were more likely to have used poppers (62.4% versus 32.2%, p=0.001), ecstasy (19.3% versus 7%, p=0.05), and nitrous oxide (8.3% versus 1.7%, p=0.09) during sex, and to have had sex at saunas (53.5% versus 23.7%, p=0.0001), bars (76.7% versus 50.8%, p=0.001), in parks (26.7% versus 8.5%, p=0.006), in public toilets (22% versus 10%, p=0.06), and at circuit parties (15% versus 1.7%, p=0.007).

The investigators conclude that their findings “suggest that internet sex seeking may not be associated with having unprotected anal sex or having relatively greater number of sex partners…However, internet sex seeking [gay] men may have a modestly enhanced risk of STI acquisition (and transmission) by their increased likelihood of fisting, engaging in group sex, use of substances, and meeting partners in multiple venues.”

Further information on this website

Reference

Mettey A et al. Associations between internet sex seeking and STI associated risk behaviours among men who have sex with men. Sexually Transmitted Infections 79: 466 – 468, 2003.

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