Objectives Evidence is mixed as to whether meeting sexual partners online (‘internet-partners’) is associated with risky sexual behaviour and/or sexually transmitted infection transmission. Accordingly, we sought to estimate the prevalence of reporting various online romantic and sexual activities among Norwegian adolescents, including internet-partners, and the reason for meeting them and to examine differences in sexual behaviour, partnership characteristics and chlamydia infection prevalence among those reporting internet-partners versus those reporting only offline partners.
Methods Population-based cross-sectional survey among sexually experienced girls and boys, 15–20 years, using electronic questionnaires and collecting urine samples for Chlamydia trachomatis PCR testing (79% provided both, n=1023). We used logistic regression to examine associations, adjusting for potentially confounding variables.
Results Overall, 30% of both genders reported internet-partners (ever). Boys (but not girls) with internet-partners had higher chlamydia prevalence than those reporting meeting sexual partners only offline (8.1%, 95% CI 4.3% to 13.7% vs 1.6%, 0.5% to 3.7%). Two-thirds of girls and 37% of boys reported meeting their most recent internet-partner to start a romantic relationship, while the remainder did so with the specific intention of having sex. Among both genders, reporting sexual (vs romantic) reasons for meeting their most recent internet-partners was associated with reporting several risky sexual behaviours, including multiple recent sex partners (adjusted OR girls: 3.27, boys: 2.48) and three-fold higher chlamydia prevalence.
Conclusions This population-based study suggests that internet-partners are common among adolescents in Norway, and the reason for meeting them was more strongly associated with additionally reporting sexual risk behaviours and prevalent chlamydia infection than the internet itself as a meeting venue.
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