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Wednesday, 26 July, 2000, 00:31 GMT 01:31 UK
Internet sex risk
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Numerous websites offer sexual contacts
People who seek sex partners through the internet may be at greater risk of catching sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), say researchers in the United States.

A team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta surveyed 856 people who sought HIV testing at the Denver Public Health HIV Consulting and Testing Site in Colorado.

They found that among this group, seeking sex partners via the internet was a relatively common practice.

As communications in modern society diversify, it's vital that HIV educators keep up

Gavin Hart, National Aids Trust

About one in six (15.8%) of those surveyed said they had logged on to the web to seek sexual partners.

Of those, two-thirds had successfully initiated sexual contact, and one in four had met more than three partners using the internet.

The researchers compared online sex seekers with those who did not seek sex on the internet.

They found online sex seekers were more likely to have had a previous STD.

Online seekers also had greater numbers of partners than offline clients.

Nearly one in three (28.9%) of online sex seekers reported exposure to someone known to be HIV-positive.

This compared to only 14.3% of those who did not seek sex on the internet.

The researchers admitted their findings were not necessarily representative of wider populations.

Potential risk

But they said their findings did show that the using the internet to find sex was a potentially risky practice.

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, they said: "Seeking sex on the internet may be a potential risk factor for STD/HIV.

"These data underscore the need for development of strategies to promote STD/HIV prevention among online seekers."

Gavin Hart, of the UK National Aids Trust, said: "This research highlights the need in the cyberage for HIV education initiatives to ensure they target the internet as well as more conventional campaign methods like press advertising and posters.

"Internet meeting sites could consider donating banner space and providing links to sites offering advice on HIV and sexual health.

"As communications in modern society diversify, it's vital that HIV educators keep up."

But the UK HIV charity, the Terrence Higgins Trust said there was no firm evidence that people using the internet for sex were any more at risk from HIV or STDs.

A spokesman said: "The research shows that people using the internet for sex were more likely to use condoms during sex, thus actually reducing the risk of contracting or passing on HIV and other STDs.

"People with multiple sexual partners are by default more at risk from these infections, but their use of the internet in finding those partners cannot be said to put them at further risk in comparison with those who don't use the internet."

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