Reducing risk-taking in gay men with partners met online: a translational project on the influence of virtual fantasizing on in-real-life sexual behaviours of gay men
P.C. Adam1,2, J. de Wit1,3, D. Murphy1,4
1University of New South Wales, National Centre in HIV Social Research, Sydney, Australia, 2Institute for Prevention and Social Research, Utrecht, Netherlands, 3Utrecht University, Dept. of Social and Organizational Psychology, Utrecht, Netherlands, 4Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, Sydney, Australia
Background: Meeting partners online is associated with increased sexual risk-taking in MSM. Why this is so has, however, not been fully explored, which limits effective (online) HIV prevention. To address this gap a combined research and intervention project was conducted. Based on the findings from a study exploring how online chatting contributes to in real life (IRL) sexual risk taking in MSM, a new online HIV-prevention intervention was developed.
Methods: An online survey of 2,572 MSM in France assessed intention to use condoms, the content and dynamics of online chatting, in particular how men responded to chat partners who initiated virtual fantasizing about unprotected anal sex, and instances of unprotected anal intercourse with partners met online (UAIPO).
Results: While men’s intention to use condoms was high (M=4.6; theoretical range 1-5), acceptance of online fantasizing about unprotected anal sex was moderate (M=2.5), and 31% of respondents reported UAIPO. Online fantasizing about unprotected anal sex contributed significantly to UAIPO (ORa=1.45, p < .000), over and above behavioural intention to use condoms. While they planned to use condoms, a substantial proportion of MSM have UAIPO after online chat sessions in which fantasies about risk are shared with a prospective sex partner.
Conclusions: This study shows that virtual fantasizing about unprotected anal sex promotes IRL sexual risk-taking. Findings suggest that virtual fantasizing affects MSM’s sexual scripting and influences their behaviour in mostly unintentional ways. While some men as well as prevention professionals may believe that online chatting has little consequence IRL, our findings indicate that HIV prevention is needed that addresses the dynamics of online chatting. In a large online RCT we tested an intervention to reduce UAIPO by increasing MSM’s awareness of the potential consequence of virtual fantasizing and supporting them to use simple plans to self-regulate their online behaviour.