Objective: To assess the relationship between Internet use and sexual risk behavior among women.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey, with 64 items, seeking sex partners online was posted on the Internet. Respondents were targeted through e-mail list serves and bulletin board postings. However, the majority of responses were gathered after national media coverage of the survey.
Results: Of the 4444 eligible participants, age >18, from North America who completed the online survey, 29% (n = 1276) were women. Of the 1276 women, 544 (43%) reported having sex with a person they first met on the Internet. These women were more frequently white, older, and more experienced with testing for sexually transmitted infections (STI) than women who never had a sex partner they first met online. They also had a higher number of total lifetime partners and more frequently used condoms. However, these women also reported high rates of STI, are not regularly using condoms, and are engaging in anal, oral, and vaginal sex with Internet partners. Many of the women say they would appreciate receiving STI prevention information via e-mail, and those with Internet partners more frequently stated they would participate in chat room discussions about prevention (p < 0.02).
Conclusions: The Internet is a flourishing sex venue, and women too are using this new vehicle to seek out sex partners. The wide pool of potential sex partners found online coupled with ease of travel and an increase in partners has the potential to spread an STI or HIV with greater efficiency than ever before imagined. Although women with Internet partners may engage in protective behavior more frequently than women with no Internet partners, they also engage in higher risk behaviors. This population, therefore, needs to be recognized and targeted with STI and HIV education and prevention efforts.