Communicating with Native American Youth about STI Prevention

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A young Native American woman.

Communication About Sexually Transmitted Infections Among Rural and Urban Native American Youth” (abstract). Donna Rouner, Marilee Long, Roe Bubar, Irene Vernon, and Belinda Aungie. Howard Journal of Communications, published online May 2015.

What it’s about: Researchers Rouner, Long, Bubar, Vernon, and Aungie wanted to discover how Native American youth prefer to learn about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS. To do so, they conducted one-on-one interviews with 19 Native American young people ages 15 to 25. Nine participants lived in urban areas in the Southwestern United States, and 10 lived on Tribal lands in the Northwestern Plains.

Why read it: Studies show that STIs are a major health problem in the United States, particularly for members of ethnic minority groups, Rouner et al. write. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Native American youth in particular have the second highest rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia, and the third highest rate of syphilis. Additionally, Native American youth are less likely than their white peers to survive HIV once contracted or to have learned about STIs in school, the authors write.

Prior research suggests that connecting young people to accurate, culturally appropriate information about STIs and HIV can help lower rates of infection. This study seeks to explore Native American young people's preferences when it comes to accessing sexual health information to guide future programs and research looking to strengthen their outcomes.

Biggest takeaways from the research: Native youth in the study used brochures more than any other media source for information about sexual health. While participants generally believed themselves to be knowledgeable about STIs, most participants could not accurately name STI symptoms or describe related methods of prevention and treatment. Youth were also generally confident about their knowledge of STI prevention, and most did not mention seeking prevention-related information such as using condoms or discussing sexual health risks with their partners. As a whole, youth perceived alcohol and drug use as common among their peers and a factor in engaging in unhealthy sexual behaviors.

Youth living in both urban and Tribal settings were sexually active, but the ones in urban areas and attending college were less sexually active and less likely to use drugs and alcohol than their peers. Urban youth also reported feeling more comfortable seeking help for sexual health problems at clinics, particularly on college campuses or at other urban locations. By contrast, young people living on Tribal reservations were hesitant to seek services at local clinics, preferring to go out-of-town to protect their privacy.

Rouner and her colleagues suggest that clinics on Tribal lands take additional steps to ensure Native youth have private, easy access to sexual health information and care. In particular, service providers can make accurate printed materials available not just onsite, but also in schools and online. Additionally, the researchers advise discussions of sexual wellness to include information about personal empowerment and the responsibility that comes with being a source of information for one's peers. Crafting information campaigns targeted for young men or young women may also be an effective strategy, they write.

Additional references: Look for more articles on sexual health, STIs, and HIV in NCFY’s research library.

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