Transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as human immunodeficiency
virus (HIV) infection is associated with unprotected sex among multiple anonymous
sex partners. The role of the Internet in risk of STDs is not known.
To compare risk of STD transmission for persons who seek sex partners
on the Internet with risk for persons not seeking sex partners on the Internet.
Cross-sectional survey conducted September 1999 through April 2000.
Setting and Participants
A total of 856 clients of the Denver Public Health HIV Counseling and
Testing Site in Colorado.
Main Outcome Measures
Self-report of logging on to the Internet with the intention of finding
sex partners; having sex with partners who were originally contacted via the
Internet; number of such partners and use of condoms with them; and time since
last sexual contact with Internet partners, linked to HIV risk assessment
and test records.
Of the 856 clients, most were white (77.8%), men (69.2%), heterosexual
(65.3%), and aged 20 to 50 years (84.1%). Of those, 135 (15.8%) had sought
sex partners on the Internet, and 88 (65.2%) of these reported having sex
with a partner initially met via the Internet. Of those with Internet partners,
34 (38.7%) had 4 or more such partners, with 62 (71.2%) of contacts occurring
within 6 months prior to the client's HIV test. Internet sex seekers were
more likely to be men (P<.001) and homosexual
(P<.001) than those not seeking sex via the Internet.
Internet sex seekers reported more previous STDs (P
= .02); more partners (P<.001); more anal sex
(P<.001); and more sexual exposure to men (P<.001), men who have sex with men (P<.001), and partners known to be HIV positive (P<.001) than those not seeking sex via the Internet.
Seeking sex partners via the Internet was a relatively common practice
in this sample of persons seeking HIV testing and counseling (representative
of neither Denver nor the overall US population). Clients who seek sex using
the Internet appear to be at greater risk for STDs than clients who do not
seek sex on the Internet.