This study, funded by the ARC Linkage scheme, investigated whether the internet increases social capital among men who have sex with men (MSM) by building social connections and a sense of belonging, and whether such ‘virtual’ communities facilitate the uptake of internet-based HIV prevention and other health promotion messages, and their translation into safe sex practice.

Social capital comprises features of social organisation such as civic participation, norms of reciprocity and trust in others that facilitate cooperation for mutual benefit, including health and wellbeing. The study explored the potential benefits and harms to those homosexually active men who use the internet to access health information, meet sexual partners and build friendships that affirm gay identity and community inclusion. The study also assessed whether an online methodology is useful for reaching men living in rural and remote areas, and whether the methodology could replace or complement the current print-based periodic surveys of gay men in major cities.

Between February and April 2008, the main project survey was conducted online at the project website, www.e-male.com.au. Over 4000 men were attracted to and completed the online survey. The survey attracted a diverse range of MSM, including notably high proportions of young and bisexual men, men from regional areas and those who had never been tested for HIV. A project report has been published and can be downloaded here. The project team is currently focusing on peer reviewed publications.