Background: Strategies to meet sex partners have been augmented by the Internet. This medium is an environment of potential risk for acquiring or transmitting sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Goal: To document how the Internet is used to find sex partners and what risks such activity poses for STD infection.
Study design: Participant observations of 175 chat rooms targeting men who have sex with men (MSM), heterosexuals, and couples seeking sex partners.
Results: Findings indicate evidence of past meetings (9% of MSM-room observations, 15% of couple-room observations) and solicitation of sex (9% of heterosexual-room observations, 17% of MSM-room observations, 36% of couple-room observations) by members of these groups. Safer sex or risk-reduction behaviors were not frequently mentioned, but were sometimes acknowledged through solicitation of drug-free and disease-free partners.
Conclusions: Because people can use the Internet to solicit sex partners, it is a risk environment for sexually transmitted diseases. The Internet offers fast and efficient encounters resulting in sexual contact, which may translate into more efficient disease transmission. However, the Internet also offers many possibilities for innovative technologic approaches to promote STD and HIV prevention.