Risks and benefits of the internet for populations at risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs): results of an STI clinic survey

Sex Transm Dis. 2003 Jan;30(1):15-9. doi: 10.1097/00007435-200301000-00004.


Background: The Internet is increasingly used for the recruitment of sex partners, potentially leading to increased risks for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Less is known about the use of the Internet as a resource for STI education and prevention.

Goal: To evaluate the use of the Internet for sex-seeking and STI information purposes by clients of a large STI clinic.

Study design: A 10-item survey was conducted among clients of the Denver Metro Health (STI) Clinic who visited the clinic for a new problem between September 2000 and May 2001.

Results: Among 4,741 clients surveyed, 2,159 (45.5%) had Internet access. Of these, 138 (6.4%) reported to have gone on-line with the specific purpose of finding a sex partner and 146 (6.8%) reported having sex with a partner they found over the Internet. Internet sex-seeking was more common among men who have sex with men (MSM; 77/269, or 28.6%) than among men who have sex with women (MSW; 52/1,176, or 4.4%; P < 0.0001) and higher among MSW than among women (9/714, or 1.3%; P < 0.001). The Internet was accessed by 604 persons (28.0%) to find information on STIs. Of these, 65.1% did so for general STI information, 36.3% for information on HIV, 25.7% for information on genital herpes, 22.4% for information on chlamydia, 21.7% for information on HPV, 19.9% for information on gonorrhea, 16.1% for information on syphilis, and 9.3% for other information. Of persons seeking sex, 54.4% accessed the Internet for STI information, compared to 26.2% of persons not seeking sex (P < 0.0001).

Conclusions: Among STI clinic clients in Denver, nearly half have access to the Internet. Sex-seeking appears to be most prevalent among MSM. Internet use for STI information is common among those with Internet access and even more widespread among those who access the Internet to seek sex. Research is needed to develop and evaluate Internet-based STI-prevention interventions.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ambulatory Care Facilities
  • Colorado / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Health Education / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires