Medical News

Online Social Networking Technologies, HIV Knowledge, and Sexual Risk and Testing Behaviors Among Homeless Youth

May 12, 2011

The authors noted that HIV and other sexually transmitted infections "disproportionately affect homeless youth," with estimates of HIV prevalence in this population ranging from 2 percent to 11 percent, a risk two to 10 times higher than among other US adolescents. Technologies like the Internet and online social networks "may play an important role in facilitating or inhibiting sexual risk behaviors, especially among homeless youth," according to the researchers, who added that more than 96 percent of these young people access the Internet frequently. The current study assesses the associations between online social networking and sexual health behaviors among 201 homeless youth accessing services at a Los Angeles agency.

The authors used multivariate models (regression and logistic) to assess whether use of online social networking technologies (and the topics discussed therein) affected HIV knowledge, sexual risk behaviors, and STI testing.

They reported that one set of results suggests that using online social networks to seek sexual partners (versus not doing so) "is associated with increased sexual risk behaviors." The data suggest that using these networks to talk about safe sex is associated with an increased likelihood of having met a recent sex partner online, and that having online sex partners and using social networks to talk about drugs and partying "is associated with increased exchange sex."

The results also showed, however, that using social networks is associated with increased knowledge and HIV/STI prevention among these young people. Use of online social media to discuss love and safe sex was associated with increased knowledge about HIV, and with decreased exchange sex. "Merely being a member of an online social network is associated with increased likelihood of having previously tested for STIs," the authors reported.

"As online social network usage continues to increase, users will develop innovative and easier ways to find sex partners online. In order to prevent the spread of HIV and other STIs, it is important to understand the role that online social networking technologies play in the lives of people who face disproportionate risk," the authors concluded.

"The current findings suggest that use of online social networks can be associated with both increases and decreases in sexual risk behavior. These findings suggest that it is imperative that health care providers and organizations use online social networks for sexual health communication in order to decrease sexual risk behaviors and increase HIV/STI testing. Little research has been done in this area, making it important for researchers to begin studying how this new technology impacts sexual health."

Back to other news for May 2011

Adapted from:
AIDS and Behavior
02.2011; Vol. 15: P. 253-260; Sean D. Young, Eric Rice

This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.

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