Facebook can do many things, even help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections. A new study from the University of Colorado, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, took a group of Facebook users aged 18 to 24 to see if receiving updates from a sexual health-based page or posting content to a news page made them more likely to wear condoms.
The results were encouraging. When the participants were asked about their last sexual encounter two months into the study, 68 percent of the users who liked Just/Us, the sexual health-based page, said they used condoms. Among the control group, of those who posted content to 18-24 News, 56 percent said their last sexual experience was protected. However, these numbers fell to 60 percent among the Just/Us members after six months.
The study was mainly focused on young Latino and African-American participants, who made up 14 percent and 35 percent of the study, respectively.
Lead researcher Sheana S. Bull wrote about the study in a press release:
The use of social media to influence sexual risk behavior in the short term is novel. It is a first step in considering how to reach the overwhelming numbers of youth online, and how to maximize approaches to technology-based interventions.
Researchers noted that many young adults don’t always have access to regular health care, but many of them have Facebook profiles, citing statistics that 73 percent of teenagers use social media. The authors of the study noted that outreach and education via social media, when used properly, can have a bit of an impact on safe sex.
The study discusses the drop-off at the six-month mark:
Likewise, although there was strong retention in the short term (two months), retention over time declined. Of concern is the attrition among higher-risk youth from the study. Although this type of attrition has been documented in other online STI-related research, it underscores the need to redouble efforts to attract and engage higher-risk youth in prevention efforts using social media. Future work should explore approaches to keep audiences engaged in social media content related to sexual health.
Readers: Do you believe that Facebook can have an effect on sexual safety?
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