Internet Use and Sexual Health of Young Men Who Have Sex with Men: A Mixed-Methods Study
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Young gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) experience sexual health disparities due to a lack of support in settings that traditionally promote positive youth development. The Internet may help to fill this void, but little is known about how it is used for sexual health purposes among young MSM. This mixed-methods study reports quantitative results of a large survey of 18- to 24-year-old MSM in an HIV testing clinic (N = 329) as well as qualitative results from interviews. Level of Internet use was high in this sample and the majority of participants reported using the Internet to find HIV/AIDS information. Black and Latino youth used the Internet less frequently than White youth, and after controlling for age, education, and frequency of Internet use, Black youth were 70% less likely to use the Internet to find HIV/AIDS information. Qualitative analyses identified themes related to the role of the Internet in finding sexual health information, sexual minority identity development, and sexual risk taking behaviors. Participants reported that the Internet filled an important and unmet need for sexual health education. It allowed for connections to the gay community and support during the coming out process, but also exposure to homophobic messages. There was no evidence of increased risk behaviors with partners met online, but at the same time the potential for the use of the Internet to facilitate safer sex communication was largely untapped. Our findings generally present an optimistic picture about the role of the Internet in the development of sexual health among young MSM.
KeywordsInternet HIV prevention Online Gay Bisexual MSM
The project described was supported by Award Number R34MH079714 from the National Institute of Mental Health. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Mental Health or the National Institutes of Health. We would like to acknowledge our collaborators at Howard Brown Health Center (Robert Garofalo and Beau Gratzer), who were involved in the design of the study and the recruitment of participants. A William T. Grant Scholars Award to Brian Mustanski was instrumental in the use of a mixed-methods approach.
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