"Like" Safe Sex, You Might Do It More

Safe sex information on Facebook appears to increase safer sex behaviors in young adults

(RxWiki News) What if "liking" a Facebook page could help you make better decisions or live healthier? For sexual health, there is some evidence that it can.

A recent study has found that providing information on Facebook about safe sex reduces risky sexual behavior, at least in the short-term.

"Practice safe sex — use a condom."

The study, led by Sheana S. Bull, PhD, MPH, from the Department of Community and Behavioral Health at the University of Colorado's Colorado School of Public Health, aimed to find out whether messages about safe sex distributed through social media were effective.

The researchers recruited participants through blogs, websites and local postings in cities that have higher rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted illness (STIs).

They specifically sought African-American and Latino young adults since these groups tend to be at higher risk for HIV and STIs.

The participants were split into two groups that were both assigned to a network to join on Facebook.

One group of 942 participants joined the Facebook group Just/Us, which was developed to provide information about sexual health.

The information was distributed through links to videos, blogs, quizzes and discussions.

The topics included how to talk about your sexual history, how to talk about condom use and use a condom properly and how to get testing for STIs.

The other 636 participants in the study, used as the control group, joined a Facebook group called 18-24 News and included news going on between 6 p.m. and midnight each day that might interested 18- to 24-year-olds.

Both groups were surveyed before the study began and two months after both groups joined the Facebook groups.

They were asked how often they had used a condom during sex in the previous two months and whether they used a condom the last time they had sex.

The researchers found that the social media intervention on safer sex had a positive short-term effect on the behavior of those involved with it.

The participants involved in the Just/Us group for two months said they used a condom 63 percent of the time during sex over the previous two months while the participants in the 18-24 News group only used it 57 percent of the time.

Similarly, 68 percent of those in the Just/Us group used a condom the last time they had sex, compared to 56 percent of those in the 18-24 News group.

However, when the two groups were surveyed six months after they had participated in the groups, there was no significant difference between their condom usage.

The impact of the social media intervention had only been short-term, and the participants' age, gender and race/ethnicity did not appear to affect the results in any way.

"The effect size from the short-term outcomes match or exceed those observed in other Internet interventions, suggesting Facebook for sexual health interventions is at least equally effective as other technology-based mechanisms," Dr. Bull said in a release about the study.

The condom usage was reported by the participants, so it is possible that their use was over-reported by the young adults.

In addition, more participants dropped out or became less active over time, so the effect of the social media intervention was limited.

However, the study still offers a way that sexual health information can be distributed to young adults effectively, even if it does not last indefinitely.

The study was published October 9 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The research was funded by the National Institute for Nursing Research. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
October 8, 2012