Friday, March 04, 2011

The Internet May Reach Those Who Others Simply Can't

I Want the Kit, a website that offers free chlamydia tests is only available in a few select areas (Alaska, Denver, CO, Maryland, West Virginia, Philadelphia, PA, Washington, DC and parts of Illinois), but it seems to make a big impact. About half its users are under 23 -- not surprising since this is the demographic that is most at-risk for STIs, most likely to go online, and most likely to lack access to insurance and have no other place to go for health care.

A study out of Johns Hopkins found that women who sent tests into I Want the Kit had infection rates between 4-15% -- positive tests mostly came from those who rarely get health check-ups and have limited or no health insurance. For comparison, 3-6% of women who get tested at family planning clinics test positive for Chlamydia infections. So, rates are higher for those who choose the online test. But that simply could be due to the age bracket -- or is it something else?

Another study out of UCLA looked at the internet habits of homeless youth. They were surprised to find that almost 80% of these young people use social networking at least weekly. The potential downside of this usage is that over 20% percent of sexually active participants reported having found a sex partner online in the past  three months, and more than 10% engaged in "exchange sex" — trading sex for food, drugs or a place to stay.

However, those who used social networking to meet sexual partners were also more likely to discuss safer sex practices. And homeless youth who used social networking in general were more likely to have been tested for HIV and STIs.

So, maybe there is something else about the people who go online to get information about sexual health. They might simply be the people who know they need resources, but aren't sure where else to go to get them. And that's not such a bad finding after all.

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