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Frank Strona: One of the things to keep in mind with Internet behavior is there is a perception of anonymity.It is a cultural norm to be able to put a photograph in the profile out there that does not have a face, it does not have a name associated and I think that there is a level of personal safety that you believe you have, giving the fact that you think people cannot identify you.That does not make you a "local" community organization tied to that particularly community, which then creates a challenge in terms of working with the local sex venue to say, "Okay, we would like you to put up more posters." They are there to make money and they are going to after the situation that is going to cause their membership the least trauma, the least discomfort and the least reality, in some cases.JK: In our work, it seems that people who attend sex clubs and seek sex at sex clubs seem to be somewhat different than people who are seeking sex online, different from people who may seek sex through more kind of casual street-based or social encounters, and surprisingly, there is actually not a lot of overlap.Whereas a lot of people in their profiles will put down "safer sex only," then they meet up, that means we do not have to have a discussion about it because, let's say I responded to an ad that said "safer sex only" or we both wrote "safer sex only." However, for me, "safer sex" is "no unprotected anal intercourse" and, for you, "safer sex" is "no anal intercourse at all." And then that is not being discussed. MV: So, is there a misperception with the Internet where it seems clear that you can say, "I'm HIV-negative, STD-free" but that does not get into when you were last tested or what that means for you, and so that it appears that it is all out there in the open but it is really not being addressed?That is probably not the best example, but let's say for the other person, let's say they won't even have oral sex without a condom. Then you go out and try to find somebody else who potentially has your same thoughts and beliefs. JK: Yes, I think Al Cooper down at Stanford and Michael Ross in Houston, talk about why the Internet is so popular based on these five A's. The Internet is very accessible to many people, particularly in this demographic, particularly here in San Francisco.And we really ask people how they thought the Internet was affecting their sexual behaviors and to the T, almost everyone said that it has been increasing the number of partners they have and then either look at that as something really positive-that it is convenient, it is accessible, that it is sort of the greatest thing-and other people are sort of indicating some level of frustration with that, well, while they can get their physical needs met pretty easily, sometimes their unexpressed needs around intimacy might not be getting met, although that can be true in other venues as well, but I think the explosion in the number of partners people are meeting online is really changing that for some of the guys that we have been interviewing.MV: So, what sort of comparisons can we make between Internet chat rooms and other venues where the goal the sort of the same and very obvious, such as sex clubs; there are sex clubs in the City and a lot of other cities.
But we are here to address the questions of why this is the case, what evidence there is to support these studies and these trends, and to set out what makes Internet chat rooms different from other venues.What differs from the local sex club, though, in one factor is they are not community-based.The owners could be in New York or be in Ohio and that is where they launched your national website from, and you could have people all over the country using the site.Joining me today are several individuals, all of whom either as public health officials, researchers, safe sex advocates or some combination thereof, have a particular interest and expertise in Internet chat room use among MSM. Frank has worked on men's sex and health issues for more than 15 years. He is assistant research psychologist and has studied and worked on a number of community-based interventions among gay men.
He is co-creator of a new website called Safe Sex City.com, which is a cyber-community geared towards creating a community of like-minded MSM who are committed to promoting and practicing of safe sex. He has conducted research on the role of the Internet in the sexual lives of MSM and has found a number of interesting trends that I am sure he will share with us in our discussion today.The roundtable discussion today is about MSM, sex and Internet chat rooms.