Finding sex partners on the internet: what is the risk for sexually transmitted infections?

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Abstract

Objective:

To assess the association between sexual encounters with internet partners and current Chlamydia trachomatis (Ct) and Neisseria gonorrhoeae (GC) infections.

Methods:

Between August 2006 and March 2008, patients at the Denver Metro Health Clinic were routinely asked about sexual encounters with internet partners. This retrospective case-control study was limited to patients who tested for Ct/GC at their visit. Analyses were stratified by sexual orientation to account for differences in baseline risk behaviours.

Results:

Of 14 955 patients with a valid Ct/GC test result, 2802 (19%) were infected with Ct/GC. Stratified by sexual orientation, the prevalence of Ct/GC infection was 17% for men who have sex with men (MSM), 21% for men who have sex with women (MSW) and 16% for women. A total of 339 (23%) MSM, 192 (3%) MSW and 98 (2%) women reported having a sexual encounter with a person they met on the internet in the past 4 months. The estimates of the association between recent internet sex partner and current Ct/GC infection were not significant for MSM (risk ratio (RR): 1.12, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.84 to 1.49) and women (RR: 0.81, 95% CI 0.45 to 1.48). However, the association appeared to be significantly protective among MSW (RR: 0.66, 95% CI 0.44 to 0.98).

Conclusions:

Sexual encounters with internet partners did not appear to be associated with increased risk of current Ct/GC infection among people seeking care at a sexual health clinic. Seeking sexual partners on the internet is a complex behaviour and its implications for STI/HIV infection are not fully understood.

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