The Internet has developed as a major site for sexual activity, both cybersex and for making contacts for sex in real life (IRL). As part of a major study of HIV-risk behavior on the Internet and IRL, we obtained online responses from 1,017 Latino men who have sex with men (MSM) in the United States. Open-ended questions solicited responses regarding whether respondents preferred to meet sexual partners first IRL (48.4%), on the Internet (31.6%), or "it depends" (20%), and "why?". Data were analyzed by theme, with themes grouped into overarching domains. Data indicate that for those preferring the Internet, themes represented were ease of Internet use, its advantages for people who were shy, and its anonymity, safety, the excitement and opportunity for experimentation of Internet contact, ability to avoid interpersonal contact, and control of visuals and the environment. Reasons for preferring meeting IRL included some of the same themes but with an emphasis on the importance of a "real presence " and the possibility to build a relationship. Where "it depends," key themes were contextual: mood, time, setting, alcohol and drug use, sexual needs and urgency, and relationship intentions. Antagonistic advantages were often noted for cybersex and IRL. These data suggest that motivations for making Internet sexual contact in MSM are complex, depend on the context and nature of the relationship sought, and that the Internet has allowed the development of a class of sexual contacts located between IRL and fantasy.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The Men’s Internet Study (MINTS) was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Center for Mental Health Research on AIDS Grant AG63688-01. All research was carried out with the approval of the University of Minnesota Institutional Review Board, human subjects committee, Study No. 0102S83821. The authors wish to acknowledge the assistance of Dr Willo Pequegnet, NIMH, and our colleagues also funded on the “Communications and HIV/STD prevention” grants who provided valuable assistance and consultation on numerous aspects of Internet research.