Background: Many young men who have sex with men (YMSM) are reluctant to seek health services and trust local physicians. Online information seeking may encourage YMSM to identify and see trustworthy physicians, obtain sexual health services, and obtain testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This study examined online STI information seeking behaviors among Chinese YMSM and its association with offline physician visits.
Methods: We conducted a nationwide online survey among YMSM through WeChat, the largest social media platform in China. We collected information on individual demographics, sexual behaviors, online STI information seeking, offline STI testing, and STI physician visits. We examined the most commonly used platforms (search engines, governmental websites, counseling websites, generic social media, gay mobile apps, and mobile medical apps) and their trustworthiness. We assessed interest and willingness to use an MSM-friendly physician finder function embedded within a gay mobile app. Logistic regression models were used to examine the correlation between online STI information searching and offline physician visits.
Results: A total of 503 men completed the survey. Most men (425/503, 84.5%) searched for STI information online. The most commonly used platform to obtain STI information were search engines (402/425, 94.5%), followed by gay mobile apps (201/425, 47.3%). Men reported high trustworthiness of information received from gay mobile apps. Men also reported high interest (465/503, 92.4%) and willingness (463/503, 92.0%) to use a MSM-friendly physician finder function within such apps. Both using general social media (aOR =1.14, 95%CI: 1.04-1.26) and mobile medical apps (aOR =1.16, 95%CI: 1.01-1.34) for online information seeking were associated with visiting a physician.
Conclusion: Online STI information seeking is common and correlated with visiting a physician among YMSM. Cultivating partnerships with the emerging mobile medical apps may be useful for disseminating STI information and providing better physician services to YMSM.
Keywords: China; HIV; MSM; STIs; Social media.