Virtual Versus Physical Spaces: Which Facilitates Greater HIV Risk Taking Among Men Who Have Sex with Men in East and South-East Asia?
Increasing use of the Internet to seek sex partners is accompanied by rising HIV infections among men who have sex with men (MSM) in East and South-East Asia. We examined whether the Internet facilitates greater HIV risk taking among MSM in the region. A cross-sectional sample of 9,367 MSM was recruited via the Internet in 2010. We compared socio-demographic and HIV-related behavioral characteristics among MSM who met sex partners on the Internet only, who met sex partners offline only, and who met sex partners through both. Multinomial logistic regression was used to identify independent correlates that were associated with differences in where participants met their male sex partners. Compared to MSM who met partners offline only, those who met partners online only were less likely to have multiple male sex partners, have paid for sex, have consumed recreational drugs, and have used alcohol before sex. MSM who met partners both online and offline appeared to be the riskiest group that they were more likely to have multiple male sex partners, have engaged in UIAI, and have consumed alcohol before sex. These findings suggest that social networking websites alone do not facilitate greater HIV risk taking among MSM. Rather, they provide additional venues for MSM who already engage in HIV-related high risk behaviors to seek sex partners. The Internet offers incredible opportunities to reach large numbers of MSM in East and South-East Asia for HIV prevention and research. Web-based outreach and prevention activities are needed to reach these men. In addition, mobile and application-based interventions should also be developed and disseminated.