Can Facebook Prevent STIs?

Sexual health messages on Facebook may be helpful

(RxWiki News) Imagine this: You open up your Facebook to see that a page you 'liked' has posted about where you can get tested for HIV. If you keep getting these messages, will you avoid a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?

Maybe – at least for a little while.

That's the conclusion of a study designed to find out whether Facebook can be used to prevent sexually transmitted infections and diseases like HIV, and encourage teenagers to wear condoms.

"Enjoy social media conversations."

The study was lead by Sheana S. Bull of the University of Colorado's Department of Community and Behavioral Health. She called social media “a first step in considering how to reach the overwhelming numbers of youth online, and how to maximize approaches to technology-based interventions.”

Let's break down the reason behind the study: Lots of young people are online, engaging in social media like Facebook and Twitter everyday.

Many of those same kids are engaging in sexual behavior and also trying to understand their sexuality.

The researchers had the idea that social networks might be an effective way to get heard by a group of people who might not be getting the information from a doctor.

It's been shown that the Internet can have a lot of power in influencing sexual behavior. But no one had ever tapped in to social networks before – to discover if the way that people get information about their friends can also guide them towards making smarter choices around sex.

The research team recruited 1578 people between the ages of 16 – 25. They skewed the participants towards Latino and African-Americans, groups that are more likely to have risky sexual behaviors.

Half the group 'liked' a page called Just/ Us, which posted updates, links, videos, and photos about sexual health. The other half 'liked' a page called 18-24 News, which posted regular news items.

The researchers surveyed the participants two months into the project, and then again at six months. The results at two months were better than those at six months.

For example, at two months, 68 percent of the Just/ Us sexual health page group reported that they used condoms for their last sexual encounter. The 18 – 24 News group had 56 percent.

But at six months, there was no significant difference between the two groups. Apparently, interest in the messages fell off.

Still, the researchers remain optimistic about the possibilities of integrating Facebook and other social media into health outreach for youth.

“It may be valuable to consider whether clinics providing sexual health services to youth might benefit from having a presence on Facebook, and whether having such a presence can intensify, supplement, or extend the efficacy of their own sexual health promotion efforts,” they wrote in the paper.

But social media engagement isn't quite a precise science yet, and the study authors noted that they don't yet know how to encourage people to share material between their own networks.

They called it a “short-term” solution to encourage condom use and prevent STIs.

The study was published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.  

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Review Date: 
October 10, 2012