Internet Sex Ads, HIV infections, and Invisibility

Sean McShee
Original Article: 

In early February, Newsweek reported on Jason Chan and Anindya Ghose’s study that claimed ads for casual sexual partners on resulted in large numbers of new HIV infections. When the mainstream press covers a research study about hot button issues, a good study can have unintended negative consequence, and a bad study can become the basis of policy. This study has serious problems in design, assumptions and in its citations that reduce its credibility. Gay/bi and other men who have sex with men became invisible in this study of the Internet and HIV transmission.

The Management Information Systems Quarterly published this epidemiological study. Sometimes an outside perspective can uncover something new. Other times an outside perspective can just be strange, and not in the good sense.

HIV does not spread randomly in the population like the flu. It spreads in certain social groups and not in others. Gay/bisexual men accounted for 53.2 percent of all new positive HIV tests in 2012, exceeding all other groups. Yet these researchers managed to discuss increases in HIV infections without once using the words "gay," ‘bisexual," "man who has sex with men" or "MSM" in the text. The number and content of ads for Man-Seeking-Men on Craigslist should be critical variables for this study to examine, but they were not.

On page 7 of their study, the authors describe the problem driving increases in HIV infections as a choice between having casual sex and enjoying "STD/HIV free status via abstinence." This false dichotomy ignores the increasing number of prevention choices that people have.

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