Looking for sex online tied to risky behaviours

16 Nov 2020

Using the internet to meet sexual partners may be an indicator of risky sexual behaviours, a recent study has found.

The researchers conducted a stratified population-based analysis of 14,537 individuals (aged 16–64 years; 60 percent female) who accomplished a survey about sexual and reproductive health as part of a nationwide study carried out by the Public Health Agency of Sweden.

Using the internet to meet sexual partners was a significantly less common phenomenon in participants aged 45–64 years, both in women (odds ratio [OR], 0.3, 95 percent confidence interval [CI], 0.2–0.4) and in men (OR, 0.5, 95 percent CI, 0.4–0.7).

On the other hand, those who self-identified as bisexual or homosexual were significantly more likely to meet partners through the internet. This was especially true among men, in whom the likelihood was nine and 20 times greater, respectively.

In turn, people who met partners online were more likely to engage in risky behaviours. For instance, women were five times more likely to engage in condomless sex with a temporary partner if they met their partners online (OR, 5.1, 95 percent CI, 3.8–6.8). Men, in comparison, were six times as likely to engage in this behaviour (OR, 6.0, 95 percent CI, 4.5–7.9).

Similarly, women (OR, 2.2, 95 percent CI, 1.7–2.9) and men (OR, 2.4, 95 percent CI, 1.8–3.2) who met partners online were more than twice as likely to have been diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections (STI) or HIV in the past. Being paid or paying for sex was likewise significantly more common among those who sought partners online.

“As the range and availability of social and dating applications keeps increasing, sexual health promotion and STI/HIV-prevention control activities may underestimate the public health significance of this phenomenon,” the researchers said.

“Prevention activities targeting individuals of nonheterosexual orientation via these online channels may have a potential impact,” they added.

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