Race-Based Sexual Stereotyping and Sexual Partnering among Men Who Use the Internet to Identify Other Men for Bareback Sex

Article excerpt

The Internet has emerged as a widely accessed environment in which men interact with other men for sexual purposes. A recently conducted meta-analysis of 15 studies examining use of the Internet among men who have sex with men (MSM) found that roughly 40% reported using the Internet to find sex partners (Liau, Millett, & Marks, 2006). Certain groups of MSM may be more likely to use the Internet to meet male sex partners. For example, men who deliberately seek to have condomless sex with other men (a practice also referred to as "bareback" sex) can use the Internet to facilitate such encounters (Carballo-Dieguez & Bauermeister, 2004; Carballo-Dieguez et al., 2006; Halkitis & Parsons, 2003; Halkitis, Parsons, & Wilton, 2003). Likewise, racial minority (i.e., Asian & Pacific Islander, Black, and Latino) men may constitute a large number of Internet-using MSM. Research suggests that racial minority MSM are more likely to be non-gay identified than White MSM (Kennamer, Honnold, Bradford, & Hendricks, 2000; Stokes, Vanable, & McKirnan, 1996) and report experiencing stigma and discomfort in traditional gay social venues (Beeker, Kraft, Peterson, & Stokes, 1998; Stokes & Peterson, 1998). Given these findings, the Internet may be a prime setting for racial minority MSM to meet sexual partners. There is evidence of the presence of racial minority MSM on the Internet, as race-specific chat rooms have been identified on Web sites that cater to men looking to "hook up" with other men (Carballo-Dieguez et al., 2006).

The Internet facilitates the process in which men meet other men who possess their preferred characteristics. This is largely because the Internet allows for selectivity in responding to advances from potential sex partners, and permits men to market themselves in a variety of ways to attract sex partners with their preferred characteristics. For many, race is a key factor that determines preferences for sexual partners (Ellingson & Schroeder, 2004). Race represents a socially constructed concept (Root, 2000), and using race to categorize individuals or predict behavior may be imprudent in some situations. However, as a social construction, race permeates social interactions between individuals and is a lens through which social actors view the world (Omi & Winant, 1986). As such, the expectations MSM have about sex partners of different racial groups and the role these expectations have on sexual partnering practices are important to consider, particularly in the context of the Internet. Nonetheless, perceptions that MSM have of potential sex partners within and outside of their own racial group, and the way these perceptions structure sexual partnering practices, have largely remained unexamined in social and behavioral research.

Sexual partnering is broadly defined as the process through which MSM initiate their sexual relationships, whether their expectation is for a long-term relationship or brief sexual encounter. Sexual partnering is considered a "local" process that is structured by the local organization of social life, the local population mix, and shared norms (Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, & Michaels, 1994). For example, the sexual partnering practices of men who use the Internet to meet sex partners in New York City will be impacted by the local norms of the gay community of that region.

The sexual partnering choices that MSM make may be related to the higher prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as HIV, in different subgroups of this population--namely, racial minority MSM (Bingham, Marks, & Crepaz, 2003; Catania et al., 2001). Estimates of HIV risk behavior that have been obtained from diverse samples of MSM show no significant difference between racial minority and non-minority MSM (Mansergh et al., 2002; Millett, Peterson, Wolitski, & Stall, 2006; Peterson, Bakeman, & Stokes, 2001). Instead, potentially high-risk sexual networks that are structured by race have been posited as a better explanation for differences in HIV prevalence among minority and non-minority MSM (Berry, Raymond, & McFarland, 2007; Millett, Flores, Peterson, & Bakeman, 2007; Millett et al. …