Social Media Influences Youth Sexual Behavior in Short Term

Positive effect seen in condom usage at two months, but not six months

THURSDAY, Oct. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Social media can be an efficacious vehicle for delivering messages regarding the prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), according to a study published online Oct. 9 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

To examine the short-term effect of STI prevention messages delivered via Facebook, Sheana S. Bull, Ph.D., M.P.H., from the Colorado School of Public Health in Denver, and colleagues recruited individuals (aged 16 to 25) in multiple settings who were asked to recruit three friends, and so on, extending three waves from each seed recruit. Networks (seeds and waves of friends) were exposed to STI prevention messages delivered via Facebook (Just/Us) or control content on 18-24 News.

A total of 1,758 participants enrolled and 75 percent completed at least one study follow-up. The researchers found that, at two months, time by treatment effects were noted for condom use (intervention 68 percent versus control 56 percent; P = 0.04) and proportion of sex acts protected by condoms (intervention 63 percent versus control 57 percent; P = 0.03). Participation in the intervention correlated with a reduction in the tendency for decreased condom use over time. At the six month follow-up no effects were observed.

"The use of social media to influence sexual risk behavior in the short term is novel, and is an important first step in considering how to reach the overwhelming numbers of youth online and how to maximize approaches to technology-based interventions," the authors write. "Future work should explore approaches to keep audiences engaged in social media content related to sexual health."

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