Minnesota Researchers Developing Web Site That Aims To Curb Spread of HIV Among MSM
The Minneapolis Star Tribune on Sunday profiled Sexpulse, a Web site in development at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health that is the latest strategy to curb a "second wave" of HIV/AIDS cases among young men who have sex with men. According to a recent report published Thursday in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the number of new HIV diagnoses recorded between 2001 and 2006 among men who have sex with men ages 13 to 24 increased by 12.4% annually.
According to the Star Tribune, Sexpulse is attempting to capitalize on the prevalence of online social sites in an attempt to stop the epidemic. Professor Simon Rosser, along with others at the university, received a $3.5 million federal grant to create a prototype for online HIV intervention specifically for MSM. Rosser has recruited 2,700 men to test the Web site, and results will be available next year, the Star Tribune reports. If his surveys show men who use the site increase their safer-sex practices and return regularly, then the site will go live, and the link and advertisement for it will be posted on MSM social networking sites. "If this is successful, it is huge," Rosser said, adding, "We can flick a switch and make it available to every gay man in the world."
According to the Star Tribune, some experts debate whether the Internet is driving risky sexual behavior among MSM. Rosser and Gary Remafedi, an expert on adolescent health and HIV at the university, recently published a study comparing behavior of men who find partners on the Internet with those who find them in bars or elsewhere and with those who do both. The study found the Internet alone did not increase sexual behavior, but MSM who use both outlets were more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, Rosser said. He added that the Internet appears to be having an indirect effect -- the number of cases might be rising in part because the Internet increases the sheer number of sexual encounters by MSM. Remafedi said, "The technology is not the problem. But it may be the solution. Millions of people are using the Internet to meet partners, so it's a wonderful venue to intervene."
Michael Allen, CEO of Allen Interactions, is working with Rosser and other experts at the university to build the site. "A lot of health education Web sites are ... constantly trying to scare you or tell you how bad things are," Allen said, adding that Sexpulse is different because it is fun, funny and designed to change behavior through both education and boosting self-esteem (Marcotty, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 6/29).