Online Social Networking Technologies, HIV Knowledge, and Sexual Risk and Testing Behaviors Among Homeless Youth

This study evaluates associations between online social networking and sexual health behaviors among homeless youth in Los Angeles. We analyzed survey data from 201 homeless youth accessing services at a Los Angeles agency. Multivariate (regression and logistic) models assessed whether use of (and topics discussed on) online social networking technologies affect HIV knowledge, sexual risk behaviors, and testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). One set of results suggests that using online social networks for partner seeking (compared to not using the networks for seeking partners) is associated with increased sexual risk behaviors. Supporting data suggest that (1) using online social networks to talk about safe sex is associated with an increased likelihood of having met a recent sex partner online, and (2) having online sex partners and talking to friends on online social networks about drugs and partying is associated with increased exchange sex. However, results also suggest that online social network usage is associated with increased knowledge and HIV/STI prevention among homeless youth: (1) using online social networks to talk about love and safe sex is associated with increased knowledge about HIV, (2) using the networks to talk about love is associated with decreased exchange sex, and (3) merely being a member of an online social network is associated with increased likelihood of having previously tested for STIs. Taken together, this study suggests that online social networking and the topics discussed on these networks can potentially increase and decrease sexual risk behaviors depending on how the networks are used. Developing sexual health services and interventions on online social networks could reduce sexual risk behaviors.

Publication Date: 
September 17
Journal Name: 
AIDS and Behavior