Online Sex Cruising Risky -
Partners More Likely
To Have STDs
By Melissa Schorr
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 Dating Services
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, 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 rooms.
"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 editorial.

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