Objective: To examine whether the excess risk for HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) seen among gay men who look for sex through the Internet occurs with men they meet online (through the Internet) rather than offline (in bars, clubs, etc).
Methods: In 2002-2003, 4225 London gay men were surveyed in an HIV treatment clinic, HIV testing clinic, gyms and on UK Internet sites (gaydar and gay.com). All men completed a self-administered questionnaire concerning Internet use and sexual risk behaviour. Unprotected anal intercourse (UAI) with a partner of unknown or discordant HIV status was classified as non-concordant.
Results: Between 40 and 50% of men surveyed in the clinics and gyms used the Internet to look for sex. HIV-positive men who looked for sex through the Internet were more likely to report UAI with HIV-positive casual partners they met online rather than offline (clinic sample: met online only 9.9%, met offline only 3.8%, McNemar P < 0.05). Regardless of HIV status, however, men who looked for sex through the Internet were no more likely to report UAI with non-concordant casual partners they met online than offline (eg, HIV-negative men, Internet sample: met online only 9.7%, offline only 11.1%, McNemar P = 0.6).
Conclusions: In London, HIV-positive gay men appear to meet casual UAI partners of the same status through the Internet. This presents a risk for STI transmission. However, gay men were no more likely to meet casual UAI partners of unknown or discordant HIV status--which presents a risk for HIV transmission--online rather than offline.