- B O S T O N - Are you looking
for love in all the wrong places? You might be, if you,re cruising cyberspace
for sex partners.
- A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
found that those who seek sexual partners online are at a higher risk of
contracting a sexually transmitted disease, including HIV, than those who
seek partners in more traditional ways.
- "They have more sex partners, more risky sex, and
more history of sexually transmitted disease, says Mary McFarlane, a research
psychologist at the CDC in Atlanta who conducted the study. Not Like Online
- This population is "a lot different from people
looking for romance online, emphasizes McFarlane, and should not be applied
to the general public,s flirting in chat rooms and on matchmaking Web sites.
- The study, published in today,s issue of the Journal
of the American Medical Association, examined a highly specific group not
typical of the general population " 856 people who showed up at a
Denver clinic to be tested for AIDS. About two-thirds of those being tested
were heterosexual males.
- Eighty-five percent of this population, the so-called
offline group " did not seek sex with people on the Internet. Fifteen
percent " 122 men, 13 women " admitted that they had sought out
sexual partners on the Internet. Of the group that was successful in finding
a sex partner online, 90 percent were men and 67 percent were homosexual.
- 7-Plus Partners Per Year
- Of this "online sex group, 59 percent had more than
seven sexual partners in the past year, compared with only 18.5 percent
of the offline group, and 33 percent had a history of sexually transmitted
diseases compared with only 20 percent of the "offline group.
- This group was also twice as likely to have had anal
sex and to have had sex with an HIV-positive partner, both risk factors
for acquiring AIDS.
- "Just as the Internet makes office or home life
more convenient, the Internet might be making finding sex partners easier,
faster, and more efficient, says study co-author Sheana Bull of the Denver
Public Heath Department. "You go to a bar and your choices are limited
to who,s there at the time. [On the Internet], you have access to everyone.
- More Partners to Connect With
- Paul, a Webmaster in Brandon, Fla., who asked that his
last name not be used, runs www.swappernet.com, a year-old Web site for
swingers of all backgrounds with more than 70,000 registered users. He
agrees the Internet makes it easier to find more sex partners than before,
when people relied on magazine ads or nightclubs.
- "[Meeting people online] does put them at a higher
risk, because they,re meeting people they wouldn,t normally meet, he says.
"But I don,t think that this study will scare people away from it.
One bright side to the finding: Those who found partners online were more
likely to use a condom than the offline group, perhaps showing that on
some level, they were aware of this increased danger.
- And just as cyberspace can help spread disease, it can
also be used to issue warnings about outbreaks of disease.
- An accompanying study in the journal documented how San
Francisco health officials used the Internet to spread word about a recent
outbreak of syphilis. They posted the information in certain Internet chat
- "That the Internet was used successfully by the
health department was a major step forward by public health into the current
millennium, Dr. Kathleen Toomey of Georgia,s Division of Public Health
and Dr. Richard Rothenberg of Emory University in Atlanta write in an accompanying
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