Social media may up risk for homeless

March 1, 2011 at 10:45 PM
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LOS ANGELES, March 1 (UPI) -- Homeless youth who use social networking Web sites may have more risky sexual behaviors but they are better informed on HIV, U.S. researchers say.

Lead investigator Sean Young, a visiting assistant professor of family medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angles, and co-investigator Eric Rice, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California's School of Social Work, surveyed 201 youth ages 13-24 recruited at a Los Angeles drop-in agency that assists homeless kids.

In a self-administered, hour-long computer survey, the youth participants answered questions about their use of social networking technology, demographics, their sex and drug risk-taking, their living situations, their utilization of the agency's services and their mental health, the researchers say.

The study, published in the journal AIDS and Behavior, found 79 percent of all participants used social networking technologies every week and most of the participants had been previously tested for sexually transmitted infections -- whether they used social networks or not.

In addition, more than 20 percent of sexually active participants reported having found a sex partner online during the previous three months, and more than 10 percent of sexually active participants reported engaging in what is called "exchange sex" -- exchanging sex for food, drugs or a place to stay -- which has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of contracting STDs and HIV, the study says.

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