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Evaluating the Internet as a Sexually Transmitted Disease Risk Environment for Teens: Findings From the Communication, Health, and Teens Study

Buhi, Eric R. MPH, PhD*; Klinkenberger, Natalie MPH; McFarlane, Mary PhD; Kachur, Rachel MPH; Daley, Ellen M. MPH, PhD*; Baldwin, Julie PhD*; Blunt, Heather D. PhD*; Hughes, Shana MPH§; Wheldon, Christopher W. MSPH*; Rietmeijer, Cornelis MD, PhD, MSPH

Sexually Transmitted Diseases: July 2013 - Volume 40 - Issue 7 - p 528–533
doi: 10.1097/OLQ.0b013e31829413f7
Original Study

Background: Few studies have examined the association between sexual health risks and online sex-seeking among teenagers. The purpose of this study was to assess the associations between meeting sex partners online and a range of sexual risk behaviors and outcomes among adolescents.

Methods: Participants aged 13 to 19 years were recruited from a publicly funded teen clinic in Florida. After obtaining informed consent/assent, 273 participants completed an audio computer-assisted self-interview that included questions on demographics, sexual behavior, sexually transmitted disease (STD) history, and online sex-seeking behaviors and experiences. Participants also provided urine samples for chlamydia and gonorrhea testing. Data were analyzed using logistic regression to identify the association between having an online sex partner and sexual behaviors/outcomes.

Results: After adjusting for significant bivariate correlates, teens reporting online sex partners were more likely to be male, be multiracial, have a history of same-sex sexual activity, report a higher number of vaginal sex partners, and report a lower age at first vaginal sex. However, teens with online sex partners were no more likely to have ever had an STD or a current biological STD.

Conclusions: This study is one of the first to correlate biological STD results to online sexual partnering data in a youth population. Although meeting a sex partner online was not associated with past or current STDs, it was associated with other sexual risk behaviors. Future research is needed to examine the complex nature of online sexual partnering among adolescents and to develop intervention approaches.

A study found no association between teens meeting sex partners online and past or current sexually transmitted diseases but did find an association with early first sex and having more sex partners.

From the *College of Public Health, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL; †Physicians for Peace, Norfolk, VA; ‡Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA; §College of Arts and Sciences, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL; and ¶Colorado School of Public Health, University of Colorado, Denver, CO

The authors would like to thank Patricia Albright, BSN, MPH, FNP-BC, Suzy Reiter, MM, MSN, SANE-A, FAANP, and other staff at the Largo Center of Pinellas County Health Department. This research would not have been possible without their assistance.

The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Supported by an American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association Developmental Award.

There are no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Findings from this study were presented at the 19th Biennial Conference of the International Society for STD Research in Quebec City.

Correspondence: Eric R. Buhi, MPH, PhD, Department of Community and Family Health, College of Public Health, University of South Florida, 13201 Bruce B. Downs Blvd, MDC 56, Tampa, FL 33612. E-mail:

Received for publication September 20, 2012, and accepted March 26, 2013.

© Copyright 2013 American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association