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Gays' reliance on Internet double-edged sword for AIDS control
( Xinhua )
Updated: 2013-11-30

Wang Xinyu, a Chinese gay man, has pinned all his hopes on the Internet to find his Mr Right, spending hours a day in gay chat rooms and on social networking sites.

However, the 26-year-old government employee living in Nanning, capital city of south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, admits what he has found is not true love, but one-night stands.

"It's not easy to encounter the right person who perfectly meets my standards. He hasn't appeared, but I don't want to repress my physical needs," he said, logged into a local chat room teeming with hundreds of gay users.

Like Wang, who refused to reveal his real name, numerous Chinese young gay men have gone online in recent years to get love or sex, which is private, convenient and inexpensive compared with their traditional venues for socializing -- gay bars, parks or public bathrooms -- according to Zhang Beichuan, a sexologist.

Wang can not live without chat rooms, but he also can not stop worrying about one thing: HIV.

HEIGHTENED DANGER

His concern is shared by health authorities and researchers who warn that the broad use of the Internet by gay and bisexual men in China, largely expanding their social networks, may exacerbate the country's already-high prevalence of HIV among MSM (men who have sex with men).

MSM have been recognized worldwide as one of the three groups most vulnerable to HIV infection, along with sex workers and drug users.

Government data showed HIV transmissions among MSM accounted for 21.1 percent of China's total reported new infections during the first 10 months of 2012, up 6.1 percentage points year on year.

Latest figures on HIV/AIDS are not available as of Saturday noon, a day before the 26th World AIDS Day.

In Guangxi, investigations carried out by the regional center for disease control and prevention (CDC) found 80 percent of MSM in the region's colleges use the Internet to find partners, said Shen Zhiyong, who is in charge of AIDS prevention and treatment in the center.

MSM who lead deeply closeted lives due to heavy stigma and family pressures tend to look for sexual partners actively and casually in anonymous cyberspace to unleash their pent-up desires, said Shen. "Their behaviors online may greatly hike their risk of contracting HIV."

Research at home and abroad has indicated a link between Internet use by MSM and increased risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex, drug use during intercourse and multiple sex partners.

A 2007 survey involving more than 400 Chinese MSM, conducted by the China CDC in Beijing and Urumqi City, far western Xinjiang region, showed that nearly half of the respondents, aged 27 on average, said they would try to seek more sex partners if provided with easier access to the Internet.

In addition, Shen also warned that gay chat rooms, websites and instant messaging tools have opened opportunities for the HIV-positive intending to maliciously spread the virus, helping them reach out to more potential victims.

Nevertheless, Zhang Beichuan believed more and more MSM would stop promiscuity on the Internet.

"Many gay men told me they had been simply fed up with looking for sex online after doing so for some time. Some who have found their love also said they would ditch casual sex," he said.

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