Young people's sexual health literacy: seeking, understanding, and evaluating online sexual health information

Martin, Susan P. (2017) Young people's sexual health literacy: seeking, understanding, and evaluating online sexual health information. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Background: Improving the sexual health of young people is a key policy focus in Scotland. As the influence of the internet has grown within a rapidly changing health information landscape, so have opportunities for both sexual health promotion, and concerns about the challenges faced by young people in navigating this online environment. This study explores young people’s sexual health literacy (SHL), primarily within this online context.
Methods: Paired interviews with friendship groups and observational online activities were used to explore young people’s experiences of finding, understanding and evaluating online sexual health information. A purposive sample of 49 participants (aged 16-19), diverse in terms of gender, sexuality and religion, were recruited from across Scotland from areas that varied in terms of deprivation and urban/rural classification.
Findings: Participants varied in their confidence and ability to find and identify reliable information, and typically regarded identifying and filtering reliable sources as challenging. Barriers to accessing information on websites included: inaccessible language; inappropriate or non-relatable information; and websites that were difficult to navigate or did not function correctly. Concerns about stigma and ‘being seen’ seeking sexual health information was a key barrier. Stark differences, often mediated by gender, sexuality and educational circumstances, emerged in perspectives towards accessing sexual health information and support online. Findings suggest that different social media platforms present different opportunities and challenges; for example, social content sharing services such as YouTube may be useful venues for developing critical SHL, while social networking sites such as Facebook, may be less suitable to user’s active engagement in identity construction. Dissatisfaction with school-based sexual health education appears to be a catalyst for online information-seeking, but school-based sexual health education did little to equip young people to use the online environment effectively.
Conclusions: Gender, sexual identity, stigma, structural factors and social support converge and intersect around young people’s SHL. A broad range of targeted interventions are needed to improve SHL, focusing on overcoming stigma, presenting positive messages and developing interactive and critical skills. Schools could do more to develop SHL skills, including teaching the digital and critical skills to seek and appraise online information. Expanding online sexual health services may effectively complement traditional services and encourage uptake, but it is essential that research establishes a robust, comprehensive conceptualisation of SHL, and develops measurement tools specific to SHL such that interventions can be evaluated and refined.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Sexual health literacy, health literacy, digital health, e-health, young people's sexual health, digital technologies.
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences
Funder's Name: Medical Research Council (MRC)
Supervisor's Name: McDaid, Professor Lisa and Hilton, Dr. Shona and Flowers, Professor Paul
Date of Award: 2017
Depositing User: Mrs Susan Patricia Patterson
Unique ID: glathesis:2017-8528
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 24 Oct 2017 08:01
Last Modified: 22 Nov 2017 10:01

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