Perceived Risks and Protective Strategies Employed by Young Men Who Have Sex With Men (YMSM) When Seeking Online Sexual Partners

Published: September 6, 2010

Abstract
This study examined the perceptions of risk by young men who have sex with men (YMSM) regarding meeting sexual partners through the Internet. Fifty-four YMSM ages 18-29 who reported engaging in bareback sex (“intentional unprotected anal intercourse in high-risk contexts”) completed a structured assessment and a face-to-face interview. Participants reported using the Internet to meet sexual partners at least once per week, having had multiple sexual partners in the past 2 months (M = 10.50, SD = 9.25), and engaging in occasions of unprotected receptive (M = 5.35, SD = 6.76) and insertive (M = 5.06, SD = 10.11) anal intercourse. A third of the sample reported having had unprotected sex with a partner who was serodiscordant or of unknown serostatus. Despite the obvious HIV risks, the most commonly perceived risks included threats to physical safety and difficulties trusting a stranger. Risk reduction strategies included leaving information about partner and whereabouts with a friend, meeting in a public place, and screening partner through online chatting. Those YMSM who meet partners online may be at risk for physical violence in addition to HIV or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Public health campaigns should increase awareness of safety concerns when meeting sexual partners online and support YMSM’s self-protective actions.

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