Purpose: To examine the sexual behaviors and related risk factors for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV among young adults who seek sex partners on the Internet.
Methods: Study staff recruited participants in online chat rooms, bulletin boards, and other online venues. A total of 4507 participants responded to a 68-item, self-administered, online survey of Internet sex-seeking practices. The survey solicited information on sexual behavior with partners found on the Internet; in addition, a parallel set of questions addressed sexual behaviors with partners found off the Internet. Of the respondents, 1234 (27.4%) were 18-24 years old. Of the young adults, 61% were male and 75% were white. Responses from young adults were compared to those received from older adults. In addition, responses from young adults who seek sex partners online were compared to responses from young adults who do not seek sex partners online. Analyses, including logistic regression, Chi-square tests, Student's t-tests, and analyses of variance, focused on the difference between young and older adults, as well as the differences in sexual behavior with partners located online and offline.
Results: Young adults who seek sex on the Internet report substantially different sexual behavior patterns than young adults who do not seek sex on the Internet. Young adults with online partners reported sexual behaviors similar to older respondents who used the Internet to find sex partners; however, older respondents were more likely than young adults to have been tested for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.
Conclusions: Young adults who seek sex partners online may be at significantly greater risk for sexually transmitted diseases than their peers who do not seek sex partners online. These data point to an urgent need for online sexual health promotion.