Internet sex ads for MSM and partner selection criteria: the potency of race/ethnicity online

Published: November 1, 2010

The explosive growth in Internet use by men who have sex with men (MSM) to find sexual partners has been noted in the research literature. However, little attention has been given to the impact of participating in this online sexual marketplace for MSM of color, despite race and ethnicity as frequently used selection criterion in personal ads or profiles. Six focus group discussions (n¼50) and 35 in-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with African American, Latino, or Asian and Pacific Islander MSM in Los Angeles, which included discussion of their use of Internet sites to meet or interact with other MSM. Men reported race and ethnicity as a pervasive and powerful factor in facilitating or derailing Internet-mediated sexual encounters. The racialized interactions that MSM of color reported ranged from simple expressions of race-based preferences, to blatantly discriminatory or hostile interactions, and often demeaning race-based sexual objectification. Experiences of rejection and a perceived hierarcy of value in the sexual market based on race had definite costs for these MSM using these online sites. Furthermore, the private and solitary nature of seeking partners online meant that there was little to buffer the corrosive aspects of those negative experiences. These online dynamics have implications for the power balance in Internet-mediated sexual liaisons, including sexual decision making and sexual risk.

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