It’s safe to say that Craigslist’s reputation is not the cleanest. We’ve all heard and made jokes about the kind of encounters that are available on the website, and the spectrum of weird kinks on display is probably much broader than any of our imaginations could be.
But even as everyone is well aware of the world of sexual oddness that can be found on Craigslist, the references are usually just fun and games. However, according to a recently published study by New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business, as Craigslist kept arriving in new cities across America, the HIV rates of those places rose with them.
“Online platforms offer access to a larger social group than is generally available through offline contacts, making the Internet an emerging venue for seeking casual sex partners,” co-authors Jason Chan and Anindya Ghose wrote on their abstract. “The ease of seeking sex partners through classified ad sites may promote risky behaviors that increase transmission of STDs.”
Chan and Ghose came into this with a completely different research in mind. Their original goal was to examine Craigslist as a platform to sell goods — which, to be fair, was and probably still is its primary use. But as they noticed a large number of personal ads for one-night stands, they shifted their focus to the correlation between the arrival of Craigslist to a particular town and the changes in HIV rates in that place.
They focused their research on 33 states across the US for a period of 10 years, from 1999 to 2008. Their results suggested that the arrival of Craigslist was related to a 16 percent (!) increase in HIV cases.
“Our analysis suggests that the site entry produces an average of 6130 to 6455 cases of HIV infection in the U.S. each year, mapping out to $62 million to $65.3 million dollars in annual treatment costs,” they specified. “In addition, the analyses reveal that non-market related casual sex is the primary driver of the increase in HIV cases, in contrast to paid transactions (e.g., escort services and prostitution) solicited on the site which has a negative relationship with HIV trends.”
So you can breathe, avid Johns of Craigslist prostitutes! You guys are safe-ish. It’s the unpaid hookups that spiked the numbers on their own.
But having said all that, and as alarming as those stats sound, blaming this solely on Craigslist might also be over-simplifying the issue a bit. I’m sure a lot of Craigslist hookups have spread HIV to some degree, but if Craigslist hadn’t been there for it, something else would have (I’m looking at you, Tinder!) All it takes is a platform for people to meet up, and somebody on the Internet was going to provide that, no doubt about it. After all, we’re all looking for human contact in one way or another, what Craigslist — and any other place online where people look for others — did was facilitate a medium.
Still, if that’s not a cautionary tale for the advocacy of safe sex — especially when you’re dealing with your average Craigslist weirdo — I don’t know what it might be.