Romance in Digital Age: Casual Sex Is Having Unintended Results for More Young Adults in Florida

The number of college-age students getting STDs is rising, with about 36,000 Floridians in their early 20s having contracted chlamydia, gonorrhea or syphilis in 2010. That amounted to about 3 percent of the age group. New HIV case numbers also have risen over the past decade, though not as much as STDs.

Plenty of young couples are in steady, monogamous relationships, college students interviewed said, but many acknowledged the prevalence of casual sex among peers, with the Internet and social media increasing the choice of partners. "You often see hookups in media representations, but it's rare that you hear the characters talk about safe sex," said Courtney Weaver, a sexual-health educator at Florida Atlantic University.

In South Florida, clubbing is a large part of the culture, and alcohol use and underage drinking have grown among college-age students in recent years, studies show. Safe sex is even less likely when alcohol is involved, educators noted.

"We know when kids drink, their judgment goes out the window," said Sande Gracia Jones, a professor in Florida International University's (FIU) College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

Students hook up "to get what they need without being emotionally involved," Weaver said. There is no shame about it in many cases, students said, and hooking up can blur into dating relationships.

"There's a lot of serial monogamy," said Albert Garcia, an FIU senior who educates students about sexual health. "They're monogamous every couple of months and end up having four, five or six monogamous relationships in a year."

Smartphone applications such as Skout and Streetspark are popular among young adults looking for casual sex. Through such apps, which use GPS technology to locate people, people can exchange messages and photos and arrange to meet.