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Social—sexual networking technologies have been reported to yield both psychosocial benefits and sexual risks for gay and bisexual men, yet little research has explored how technology interacts with the social—geographical environment to shape the health of gay and bisexual men in the relatively understudied environment of small cities. This article draws on 29 semistructured interviews examining the use of social—sexual networking technologies among racially diverse gay and bisexual men in two small cities.

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Findings suggest that social networking technologies can help men navigate the challenges of small cities, including small and insular gay communities, lack of dedicated gay spaces, and sexual minority stigma. However, participants also describe declines in gay community visibility and cohesion, which they attribute to technology use.

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The article concludes by discussing the intersections of virtual and physical space in small cities as sites for the production of health and illness. The 21st century has launched the use of social—sexual networking technologies e. About half of U. Gay and bisexual men also use these technologies to expand their social networks Dodge, ; Ramallo et al.

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This article conceptualizes technologies as social tools and as a form of space, contending that virtual spaces created through technology are shaped by, and, in turn, influence life in nonvirtual spaces. To understand how gay and bisexual men use, benefit from, and are potentially harmed by technology, requires an understanding of the relationship between the virtual and nonvirtual spaces that gay and bisexual men access to connect with one another. Little attention, however, has been paid to the experiences of men in small cities e.

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Small cities represent unique and important environments in which to study social—sexual networking technologies among gay and bisexual men, given that small cities contain gay spaces and communities that may attract men from smaller towns, yet lack the plethora of brick-and-mortar spaces present in larger gay enclaves. For example, technology may be one tool men use to safely meet one another in areas where being gay or bisexual carries the threat of discrimination, violence, and other forms of stigma Williams et al.

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Existing research documents both health benefits and risks associated with social—sexual networking technologies. The health risks associated with meeting partners through social networking technologies have also been documented among gay and bisexual men, including condomless anal sex, multiple sex partners, sex-work, and poor mental health and suicidality related to online victimization Bien et al.

Specifically, this article explores how men in small cities use social—sexual networking technologies to facilitate connections with other men and build community. Census Bureau, These cities are racially diverse as Census Bureau, ab.

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New Haven and Hartford serve as local hubs for gay-specific resources and spaces as they contain more AIDS service organizations e. However, as small cities, the and scope of LGB resources and safe spaces to socialize are limited relative to large cities.

For example, at present, Hartford has one gay bar, while New Haven has two; both cities have a few venues that cater to the LGB community on specific nights of the week. Preliminary interviews with key informants e.

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Participants were recruited in New Haven and Hartford using a multipronged recruitment strategy that included online advertisements, flyers, direct recruitment, and snowball sampling. Flyers were posted on the bulletin boards of organizations serving the gay and bisexual community.

Direct recruitment at gay bars and clubs was also conducted by handing out recruitment cards to patrons of these locales. To reach men who may not frequent LGB venues, recruitment materials were also posted online e.

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The recruitment materials invited men to contact the study team if they were interested in participating in a study about the lives of men in Connecticut. In order to ensure diverse perspectives of gay and bisexual life in small cities, the sample was purposively constructed with respect to race, age, and HIV status.

Of the 29 participants, 13 The average age of participants was All participants reported having sex with men in the past 12 months, with 23 Additionally, 23 Six Semistructured interviews were conducted with 29 gay and bisexual men from New Haven and Hartford between May and February Interviews explored the social—geographic environments and behaviors of gay and bisexual men in small cities, including their use of technology to meet men, perception of and engagement with the gay community, and the role of virtual and nonvirtual spaces in shaping their health.

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The one-on-one, audio-recorded interviews lasted approximately 60 to 90 minutes and were professionally transcribed. To protect anonymity, participant names were changed.

The aim of the present analysis was to describe the use of social and sexual networking technologies among gay and bisexual men in two small cities. An inductive approach is ideal for summarizing raw data via the creation of that convey key themes and processes underlying participant experiences Thomas, The analysis began with broad questions about the use of social media and life in small cities and identified emergent themes through an iterative and multistage process of coding and analysis Thomas, Transcripts were first open-coded by the study team for broad analytic themes and.

All authors worked collaboratively to organize open-coded data into a fixed code structure. This code structure was iteratively refined in a series of team meetings.

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Coded transcripts were compared with ensure consistency of code application; modifications were made to improve clarity and reduce redundancies. On finalizing the codebook, two authors coded the remaining interviews.

The authors met frequently throughout the coding process to discuss coding questions, reconcile coding discrepancies, and ensure consistent application of codes. On completion of the coding process, the first author extracted and reviewed excerpts and created additional subcodes that were relevant to the use of social networking technologies.

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Social—sexual networking technologies were well integrated into the lives of gay and bisexual men in the sample as all participants described using some combination of mobile applications e. Sean, a year-old White man who lives in Hartford and works in New Haven, described social—sexual networking apps as a cornerstone of gay culture:.

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Participants frequently described their use of technologies in the context of limited opportunities for gay life in small towns and cities. When asked about why men use social networking technologies, Patrick, a year-old White man, who grew up in a suburb of New Haven, said. So they may use [websites or apps] to try to get in touch with people of the same kind of mind and make friends that way. Maybe they just want to meet people to feel like they belong.

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However, many men also noted the ways in which the benefits of technology were limited by the small size of their city. For example, virtual technologies frequently highlighted the insular nature of small city gay communities, where men often knew one another. While some men described technologies as limited in their ability to help create new social connections within small cities, participants also noted that these technologies could be used to expand the boundaries of their small gay communities.

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Kevin, a year-old Black man from Hartford, explained his use of a chat line to meet someone prior to traveling outside of Hartford:. We exchanged s. We could get together, hang out.

He came over, hung out, and it went from there. Despite the benefit of meeting men through various technologies, several participants cited concerns about their sexual and physical safety with anonymous or transient partners met online. Kyle, a mixed-race year-old man, noted his sexual safety concerns with anonymous partners met online:.

As a result of these concerns, some participants preferred to meet men in person, rather than online. For example, Rafael, a year-old Latino man, who grew up in a small city south of New Haven, perceived men he knew from the nonvirtual community to be safer in terms of risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections STIs than men he might meet online.

In the context of the relatively small gay communities that existed in these small cities, participants described having limited access to deated gay spaces such as bars, bookstores, and public gathering spaces; this posed challenges to their ability to connect with other men and find environments offering protection from stigma.

For example, Marvin, a year-old Black man and lifetime resident of New Haven, and Frederick, who had lived in New Haven for just under 2 years, noted the limited of gay bars in the city. Men often cited the opportunity to create a community of similar others in virtual spaces, particularly in small cities where such communities may not exist.

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For example, several men enjoyed the comfort of accessing virtual communities where they could disclose their preference for sexual behaviors that their peers might consider taboo e. Participants also described the ways in which technologies helped them navigate sexual minority stigma that was perceived as more prevalent in smaller cities relative to larger ones.

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Concerns about being verbally or physically assaulted due to being gay or bisexual were heightened in nonvirtual pick-up situations, and many men spoke about the local challenges of identifying potential sex partners in such settings. ZIP: 06106 06105 06103 06120 06112 06160 06114 06101 06102 06104 06115 06123 06126 06127 06132 06133 06134 06140 06141 06142 06143 06144 06145 06146 06147 06150 06151 06152 06154 06167 06176 06183

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