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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 13, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 02
Online sex-seekers study
Section One
ALL STORIES
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Online sex-seekers study

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Gay sex-seeker culture switched from the bathhouse and bar to the chat room and mobile hookup app scene years ago. Health organizations have been trying to figure out what's the best way to get the word out about healthy sexual behavior.

It is largely believed that Gay and Bisexual men who seek sex online often are less connected to the LGBTQ community and are less likely to practice safe sex. But the results of a study by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) revealed contrary information.

The study, published in December 2016 in the journal Sexual Health, conducted by researchers from the BC-CfE, the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, and the University of Victoria, involved 774 Gay and Bisexual men and men who have sex with men (MSM) in Metro Vancouver.

Researchers sought to understand what relationship exists between seeking sex online, community connections, and sexual behavior.

The most common forms of community involvement were reading Gay news (75%) and attending Gay bars or clubs (73%). Over half of the men either watched (45%) or participated in (11%) a Pride parade.

The study found that, contrary to stereotypes, online sex-seeking men were more likely to spend more social time with other Gay and Bisexual men.

However, the men also experienced less emotional connection to a general LGBTQ community identity.

While this may seem contradictory, BC-CfE associate researcher Nathan Lachowsky explained that 'there is a difference between identifying with something versus spending time doing something.'

Lachowsky says the study found that guys who use apps ascribed less importance to collective Queer identity. In other words, while in the past there was more involvement in becoming part of a larger group or movement, things have shifted toward more personalized networks now.

'It's more the fact that these guys tend to operate more with their friends&and that particular social network for them might be more important than the broader gay community,' said Lachowsky. 'I think the key message really is that guys connecting online and in person are both really important, and it's not just one or the other anymore.'

Lachowsky, who is Gay himself, said they were impressed overall with the diversity of ways that men were involved in Queer communities.

'Regardless of the way in which we might individually identify and participate in the gay community, I think there still is quite an interest in what it means to be gay and what it's like to be gay,' he opined.

The study also found that a lack of emotional connection to a large collective identity did not necessarily mean that the men cared less about taking sexual precautions. Online sex-seekers were twice as likely to ask a partner about HIV status, twice as likely to use risk-reduction practices (including changing sexual positions), and were more likely to have been tested for HIV than those who did not go online to seek sex.

'What we found is that these guys who were using app websites to connect with other men did report a greater risk of passing HIV, but they also, at same time, reported multiple strategies of ways to protect themselves and their partners from passing HIV,' Lachowsky said. 'That is not necessarily the story that has been told. The dominant story has been that guys online are riskier, full-stop, and part of this work was to really look at 'Well, we need to look at that more holistically,' and what we were able to demonstrate is that, yes, these guys do report an absolute greater risk for passing HIV, but they are more likely to use risk reduction.'

Ultimately, the study helps to dispel some misconceptions and focus future research on how social networks can be used to spread information and develop health awareness strategies effectively.

'People's personal networks are critical to the way in which we interact, are influenced, and learn about things,' Lachowsky said. 'So if we want to help provide HIV prevention resources or education, we need to be really thinking about the way people are connected to each other, and where they spend their time, and what they are emotionally connected to.'

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