While the internet makes sexual health research accessible and relatively anonymous, teens face challenges when seeking such information online, according to a recent paper in Sexually Transmitted Infections.
The findings suggest that information providers could improve the delivery of sex health content for teens.
Forty-nine young people between the ages of 16 and 19 participated in the study. All of the teens lived in Scotland and represented diverse sexual orientations, religions, and social backgrounds.
First, the teens were interviewed in pairs about their experiences accessing sexual health information over the internet, including their use of social media platforms and apps.
Next, the teens worked in pairs to obtain online information on two situations: the possibility of having a sexually transmitted infection after unprotected sex and assisting a friend who was considering his or her first sexual encounter. Each pair was in a room alone with a computer, but their conversations and computer use were recorded by the researchers.
Many teens weren’t sure where to look for reliable information, the researchers said. Some websites were difficult to sort through, used unfamiliar terminology, or used a tone that wasn’t age-appropriate or welcoming. Some teens said it was hard to find information on local services. Finding up-to-date information was a challenge as well.
Apprehension about accessing sexual content was another common concern for teens. They worried that their computer use might be noticed or monitored by other people, especially if they interacted with audio-visual content. Some teens were nervous about unintentionally accessing pornography.
There were also reservations about using social media and smartphone apps. For example, some teens were reluctant to use Facebook or Twitter because “liking” certain content could expose them to negative judgment.
“Reducing such challenges is essential,” the authors wrote. “We highlight the need for sexual health information providers and intervention developers to produce online information that is accurate and accessible; to increase awareness of and promote reliable, accessible sources; and to be sensitive to young people’s concerns about ‘being seen’ accessing sexual health information regarding audio-visual content and platform choice.”
“Fear of ‘being seen’ may be hindering teen online access to accurate sexual health info”
(News release. April 30, 2019)
“Teens can have tough time searching for sexual health information online”
(April 30, 2019)
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Patterson, Susan Patricia, et al.
“What are the barriers and challenges faced by adolescents when searching for sexual health information on the internet? Implications for policy and practice from a qualitative study”
(Abstract. First published: April 30, 2019)