Brief Report: Mobile Phones, Sexual Behaviors, and HIV Incidence in Rakai, Uganda, From 2010 to 2018

Kreniske P, Nalugoda F, Chen I, Huang R, Wei Y, Chang L, Ssekubugu R, Lutalo T, Kigozi G, Kagaayi J, Sewankambo N, Grabowski MK, Gray R, Serwadda D, Santelli J


Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest HIV incidence and prevalence in the world. In the past decade, mobile phone ownership has doubled, affecting social and sexual practices. Using longitudinal follow-up data, this study examined whether mobile phone ownership was associated with sexual behaviors and HIV incidence for youth and adults.


The Rakai Community Cohort Study gathers demographic and sexual health information and conducts HIV testing among an open cohort in southcentral Uganda every 12-18 months.


Of the 10,618 participants, 58% owned a mobile phone, 69% lived in rural locations, and 77% were sexually active. Analyses were adjusted for time, location, religion, and socioeconomic status. Phone ownership was associated with increased odds of ever having had sex act for 15- to 19-year-olds [men adjusted odds ratio (AOR): 2.12, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.78 to 2.52; women AOR: 3.20, 95% CI: 2.45 to 4.17]. Among sexually active participants, owning a phone was associated with increased odds of having 2 or more concurrent sex partners (15- to 24-year-old men AOR: 1.76, 95% CI: 1.34 to 2.32; 25 to 49-year-old men: AOR 1.81, 95% CI: 1.54 to 2.13; 25- to 49-year-old women AOR: 1.81, 95% CI: 1.32 to 2.49). For men, phone ownership was associated with increased odds of circumcision (15- to 24-year-old men AOR: 1.24, 95% CI: 1.08 to 1.41; 25- to 49-year-old men AOR: 1.12, 95% CI: 1.01 to 1.24). Phone ownership was not associated with HIV incidence.


Although mobile phone ownership was associated with sexual risk behaviors, it was not associated with increased risk of HIV acquisition. Research should continue exploring how phones can be used for reducing sexual health risk.