Researchers have raised significant concerns about the Internet's potential to facilitate sexual encounters that result in unsafe sex and place individuals at risk for STD/HIV. Yet, how using the Internet for sexual pursuits may shape sexual behavior, including risk taking, remains a very poorly understood phenomenon, especially among heterosexuals. The limited data suggest that many heterosexuals use the Internet to meet prospective sexual partners and eventually meet in-person and have sex. Yet, to date, very little is known about the practices heterosexuals engage in during these sexual encounters, the heuristics and strategies they use to assess the potential sexual risk a partner met online poses, and what in the nature of online relationship development might facilitate unsafe sex. While there has been some speculation on this issue, there is scant empirical data, drawn from almost exclusively non-Hispanic White samples. However, given the disproportionately high rates of HIV among non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanics, as well as their steadily increasing use of the Internet, these populations can no longer be ignored in this field of research. To address these gaps, and enhance our understanding of how use of the Internet for sexual pursuits shapes heterosexuals'sexual behavior, we propose a qualitative investigation of 150 adult heterosexuals (75 males, 75 females, with each gender group equally divided among non-Hispanic Whites, Hispanics and non-Hispanic Blacks) who have unprotected vaginal or anal sex with at least three (opposite sex) partners in the past 3 months, at least 2 of whom they met online. The theory of sexual scripts will guide the proposed study. For each of the research aims, potential gender and racial/ethnic differences will be examined.
The specific aims are: 1. To investigate what features of online interaction and relationship development with prospective sexual partners influence whether heterosexuals proceed to a sexual encounter with a partner met online, pursue concurrent sexual relationships or engage in unprotected sex. 2. To investigate the heuristics and online strategies used by heterosexual men and women to assess the risk of having unprotected sex with a prospective sexual partner met online. 3. To investigate the ways in which heterosexuals choose to present or misrepresent themselves online to attract a sexual partner and what in the online presentation of others attract them to consider these individuals for a safe or unsafe sexual encounter. 4. To investigate if and how using the Internet for different types of online sexual pursuits (e.g., viewing pornography, participation in cybersex, exploring risky sexual subcultures) may contribute to sexual risk- taking among heterosexuals.

Public Health Relevance

Although the Internet has emerged as an important site for a variety of sexual pursuits including meeting partners for offline sexual activity, significant concerns have been raised about its potential to enable the spread of STD/HIV. Yet, how the use of the Internet for sexual pursuits shapes sexual behavior, including risk taking, remains very poorly understood, especially among heterosexuals. Even less is known about the heuristics and strategies they use to assess the potential risk involved in sex with a partner met online and what about the process of meeting sexual partners online might facilitate unsafe sex. To address these gaps, we propose a qualitative study of 150 adult heterosexuals (75 males, 75 females, with each gender group equally divided among non-Hispanic Whites, Hispanics and non-Hispanic Blacks) who have had unprotected sex with at least 3 partners in the past 3 months, at least two of whom were met on the Internet.

Agency
National Institute of Health (NIH)
Institute
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Type
Research Project (R01)
Project #
5R01MH095325-03
Application #
8508315
Study Section
Behavioral and Social Science Approaches to Preventing HIV/AIDS Study Section (BSPH)
Program Officer
Pequegnat, Willo
Project Start
2011-09-12
Project End
2014-06-30
Budget Start
2013-07-01
Budget End
2014-06-30
Support Year
3
Fiscal Year
2013
Total Cost
$560,015
Indirect Cost
$210,006
Name
Columbia University (N.Y.)
Department
Public Health & Prev Medicine
Type
Schools of Public Health
DUNS #
621889815
City
New York
State
NY
Country
United States
Zip Code
10032