Can social media be used to promote safer sex?
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Young people spend a large amount of their time on the internet, particularly on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. This suggests that these website may be a good way to spread the message of safer sex and the importance of protecting against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Recently, researchers from the Department of Community and Behavioral Health at the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado set out to determine if reaching out to teens through social media could promote condom use.
Researchers recruited young people from cities where there are particularly high STI and HIV rates. The individuals were assigned to either a control or intervention group.
Study participants in the intervention group were assigned to to "Like" and receive news from a Facebook page that was created to promote safer sex practices. The website discussed things such as how to negotiate condom use and where to find STI testing centers, as well as links, quizzes or blogs. Those in the control group were assigned to follow a page that discussed general things that would interest people between the ages of 18 and 24.
The scientists discovered that 68 percent of the individuals who visited the sexual health website reported using a condom during their last sexual act, versus 56 percent of the controls. However, these effects decreased over time, and a six month follow-up survey found no difference in condom use between the groups.
Still, the researchers believe that Facebook could be helpful in promoting safer sex.
"The effect size from the short-term outcomes match or exceed those observed in other Internet interventions, suggesting Facebook for sexual health interventions is at least equally effective as other technology-based mechanisms, and these effects match those observed for more traditional HIV prevention programs delivered in real-world settings," said researcher Sheana Bull, Ph.D.
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