Positive outcomes for gay men dating online

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Participants were primarily recruited through advertisements on two social networking sites i. Social network advertisements were visible only to men who listed themselves as interested in other men, who fell within the given age range, and who resided in the United States and U. We recruited participants from all regions of the United States and from Puerto Rico.

A third of our sample reported being in a relationship at the time of interview, and over three-quarters of respondents reported having had sex with someone met on a dating website in the past 3 months. Three participants reported being HIV positive. This qualitative inquiry was part of a larger study, with both qualitative and quantitative components, which sought to examine how YMSM's pursuit of romantic partners may influence their HIV risk.

The study team consisted of the Principal Investigator PI , one research associate who specializes in qualitative methods, and three graduate student research assistants. The research associate and two of the research assistants, all of whom are women, were chosen by the PI to interview participants. As a member of the MSM community, the PI considered the narratives would be descriptively richer if participants described their experiences to a cultural outsider, rather than relaying their experiences to another MSM who could be perceived as sharing similar cultural experiences and meanings.

The interviewers underwent comprehensive preparation in the months prior to data collection with the objective of enhancing interview skills and awareness in regard to conducting sexual health interviews. This preparation included a training session with a mental health professional with extensive experience conducting sexual health interviews with youth. Additionally, each member of the interview team conducted two face-to-face pilot interviews. Our intent was to test the interview protocol for sufficient depth and clarity, as well as our own comfort level with its content and language.

For the pilot interviews, we recruited men who matched the selection criteria for the main study. We recruited pilot participants using a convenience sample and chose to conduct these interviews face-to-face in order to facilitate a feedback discussion afterwards as a group. Based on pilot data feedback, we modified and finalized our interview guide.

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  3. “A safe way to explore”: Reframing risk on the Internet amidst young gay men's search for identity.
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Pilot interviews were not included in the data analyses. The in-depth interviews were conducted over the phone in a private space designated solely for this purpose. The interviewers began by reading a detailed consent form to each participant, explaining the purpose of the study i.

YGM explicitly consented to both the interview process and the audio recording. We used a semi-structured interview guide covering topic areas such as relationship expectations, experiences using the Internet for dating, sexual behavior with partners met online, sexual roles with partners met online, and HIV prevention.

More specifically, youth provided detailed narratives about the joys and challenges of past and current relationships, the profile features that spark their interest when they seek partners online, the last time they had sex with someone met online, how their anal sex behavior varies according to the partner with whom they are having sex, the pleasure of anal sex, and condom negotiations with partners. Study data was protected by a Certificate of Confidentiality. We transcribed all audio-recordings into text.

We then created a codebook using the interview guide as a rubric of potential themes. The codebook included themes, definitions, and inclusion and exclusion criteria. To begin, all members of the research team coded a single specified transcript and then met as a group to compare results. This triangulation process ensured the reliability of the codebook as an instrument to be consistently utilized in future coding endeavors. After this initial session, two members of the team coded each remaining transcript independently and met subsequently to resolve any discrepancies between their codes.

Throughout the coding process, the research team addressed questions and concerns that arose in regard to individual codes and amended the codebook accordingly. After coding all 34 transcripts, each finalized version was entered into NVivo to allow for systematic extraction and reviewing of codes of interest. In the course of coding the interviews, the research team was struck by the richness of the narratives elicited as participants spoke about the formative nature of their initial experiences in the online world.

We therefore used NVivo to create a subset of the data corpus to analyze these narratives more fully, guided by our theoretical questions regarding processes of identity formation and perceived risk. We used thematic analysis to identify patterns in the data, which were then used to describe and interpret the dataset in greater detail.

Specific to the question of initial online dating experience, we asked participants to recall the age at which they first began dating online, in order to establish a temporal frame for these behaviors. The mean age of reported first experience is 17, with a range of years old. It is important to note, however, that all participants provided informed consent as adults 18 and over at the time of the interview.

Participants had been using the Internet to seek out partners for an average of five years at the time of the interview. In the course of our in-depth interviews, participants shared a variety of narratives recounting their initial online experiences exploring and utilizing dating and hookup websites. YGM used the Internet to seek out friendships, sexual partners, and romance. Access to the Internet meant access to dialogues and encounters rarely attainable in participants' face-to-face environments.

Participants also found the anonymity afforded by online interactions particularly appealing. These interactions were opportunities to internalize and test out interpersonal scripts safely by removing the dangers of rejection and stigma.

Changing the Gay Online Hookup Experience

While validation and acceptance of one's sexuality were commonly touted as benefits of going online, YGM also described their disillusionment with what they deemed as an overtly sexual online atmosphere. In addition, these young men contemplated the meaning of both the sexual and romantic relationships that evolved as a result of their nascent efforts. As they transitioned from online identity experimentation to the sexual, in-person consummation of these efforts, YGM expressed anxious uncertainty over their actions.

With little sexual experience or confidence, they found that the scripts they had begun to refine in their initial online experiences were often insufficient for negotiating their needs and desires with sexual partners. Over time, however, armed with more experience partner-seeking and with sexual and romantic relationships, participants described their online interactions as increasingly self-determined.

Having initially used these interactions to safely explore their sexual identities, participants now reflected these well-worn scripts to more reliably and comfortably fulfill their desires. In sum, by seeking partnerships online, participants chose to engage in a process both fraught with disappointment and ripe for self-discovery.


This process left them more knowledgeable about whom and what they were seeking online and, consequently, better positioned to pursue their romantic and sexual desires. In recalling their first instances of use, some participants granted that long before they met anyone in person, they had browsed various websites e. Com, Manhunt, and DList. Others, however, went online initially with the express intention of meeting up with men from nearby areas.

Certain elements particular to the online realm made it an appealing venue to search for romantic and sexual partners as YGM embarked upon their initial online dating experiences.

Associated Data

Participants told of the allure of discovering an atmosphere characterized by facility, freedom, safety, and control. Ryan 23, White, in a relationship summarized this experience, stating:. It [the Internet] basically created a safe way to explore that world without having to expose myself. I had a single room with an Internet connection. And within a few well-placed Google searches, I suddenly had access to other people that I can chat with anonymously, and sort of articulate and express ideas and desires that I would never be able to do in a social setting.

The participants described the facility with which they were able to connect with or at least observe same-sex desiring men online. It's so much easier to meet gay people online, like, like-minded guys, because in the real world, a lot of times, I have to be pretty closeted, and I feel like the ratio of gay to straight…is definitely like maybe 1 to 9 or 1 to There's extremely small numbers. And so, that definitely provides an outlet for everybody to get together and, you know, know that they're gay and know that you're gay, and then, you know, see if you can hit it off….

So, I felt like it was definitely a lot easier way of meeting other guys. YGM repeatedly made mention of the high level of anonymity afforded by online encounters. When asked what he liked about the first online dating sites he visited, Aiden 23, White, in a relationship replied:. Mostly that you can remain anonymous, almost entirely. Decide, you know, decide what you wanted to put on there, like stats and what you look like and stuff like that. You didn't have to put anything else on there. You could leave it entirely blank. Such anonymity created an atmosphere of safety and control, as young men were able to explore at a level that felt comfortable without having to divulge too much personal information.

Control over the type and amount of information that participants posted online meant that they could construct alternate identities, exploring different facets of themselves and the individuals they wished to be. With participants dating online for the first time at a mean age of 17, many of them did not meet the age requirement of some dating sites. Rather than age acting as a barrier, young men reveled in the freedom that accompanied lying about one's age. Ryan 23, White, in a relationship exerted a higher level of control in order to feel safe, portraying himself as a different person entirely.

I could enter into a conversation and either say as much of myself as I wanted or construct elaborate… false information.

Changing the Gay Online Hookup Experience

I used a pseudonym for the longest time. And — both out of security and not wanting to, you know, somebody asks a name and I don't, don't want to reveal it. But also just, again, sort of creating a persona that it was safe to explain with them. At a period in their lives in which many of our participants were scrutinizing their own sexual feelings and desires, and often confronting a society that was less than accepting of them, freedom of expression in a safe, controlled environment was both refreshing and reassuring. Once they had begun dating online, YGM asserted that they benefited considerably from the connections made through websites and chat rooms.

For many of them, these virtual networks were their first exposure to other men with same-sex desires. This introduction was an affirmation that their feelings and attractions were not singular, but rather were shared by a multitude of people. I was feeling lonely. Pretty sure. And a lot of curiosity. Furthermore, as Ethan's 24, White, single comments demonstrate, a critical element of these experiences was the newfound courage that arose in online interactions:.

I felt like I wasn't alone. I felt I could actually talk to people. I mean, even if I couldn't get the guts to go out and talk to people, I felt like I had friends who understood, and I'd meet people not from Idaho in some of the chat rooms and just feel not alone. In taking the next step and initiating communication, participants came to recognize that attention from other men was a source of validation and acceptance. For Winston 21, African American, single , the confidence boost was palpable:. You're so attractive. I can't — I want to lay with you. I want to be with you. What can I do to pick myself up?

Let me go online and, you know, hear all these men that, you know, want to have sex with me.