Social network effects on the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases

Sex Transm Dis. 2002 Nov;29(11):689-97. doi: 10.1097/00007435-200211000-00012.


Background: Only a limited number of studies have examined the effects of social networks on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), although the findings of such studies would be helpful in designing more effective prevention strategies.

Goal: This study attempts (1) to determine whether there are any social network effects on STD transmission after controlling for other risk factors and (2) to explore the possible mechanisms by which social networks exert their effects.

Study design: Logistic regressions examine the effects of friendship networks on STD transmission using data drawn from the Chicago Health and Social Life Survey (CHSLS). Additional logistic regressions probe the possible mechanisms (social control versus information and dyadic versus third party) that account for how the observed effects of networks might arise.

Results and conclusion: Among people who had fewer than 13 lifetime sex partners, those with no social friends were only 0.4 times as likely to be infected as those with one or more social friends. Among people who had 13 or more lifetime partners, those with many friends (5 or 6) but weak ties to them (talking less than once a day with them) were only 0.2 times as likely to be infected as those with either fewer friends or stronger ties to their friends. Additional regressions suggest that network effects resting on dyadic control prevail among those with fewer than 13 lifetime sex partners. In contrast, network effects resting on information exchange among third parties prevail among those with 13 or more lifetime partners.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexual Partners*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / epidemiology
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / prevention & control
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / transmission*
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Support*
  • United States / epidemiology