Do Urban African American Youth Find Sexual Health Information Online?

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An African American young woman reading her smartphone.

Information Age: Do Urban African-American Youth Find Sexual Health Information Online?” (abstract). M. Margaret Dolcini, Jocelyn Warren, Senna L. Towner, Joseph A. Catania, and Gary W. Harper. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, Vol. 12, No. 2 (June 2015).

What it’s about: Dolcini et al. examined how urban African American youth use the Internet, what sexual health topics they look for (e.g., condoms, HIV, relationships), and what prompts them to look for that information online. Researchers recruited 81 heterosexual youth ages 15 to 17 from youth-serving agencies located in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago and San Francisco. They interviewed youth about their Internet use, specifically the extent to which they use it and the range of sexual health information they searched for and viewed.

Why read it: Previous studies indicate that teens use technology to talk to dating partners about sexual health, but little is known about how they use the Internet to access sexual health information. In particular, African American youth living in low-income neighborhoods may face unique challenges connecting to credible information online. Learning more about existing patterns and roadblocks, the authors write, may help organizations develop effective strategies for connecting youth to the information they need.

Biggest takeaways from the research: All participants said they had used the Internet in the past, most commonly to access social networking sites like Facebook, watch movies and music videos, and finish school assignments. Slightly less than half, however, reported going online to find sexual health information. Youth who did use the Internet to access sexual health information looked up topics such as condoms and other forms of birth control, testing and treatment of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, sexual communication, and relationships. Teen boys with sexual experience said they typically searched for information about condoms, communication with sexual partners, and relationships.

Interestingly, only a small number of the youth reported deliberately seeking sexual health information online. Of those who had, many did so to complete an assignment for a sex education course. School and youth-serving clinics may be able to increase these numbers by promoting the Internet as a source of accurate sexual health information, the authors suggest, particularly among youth with no sexual experience. Additional studies are needed, they add, to confirm their study results and identify other factors that might influence Internet use, including access and privacy.

Additional references: Learn more about technology and sexual health communication and sexual and reproductive health in the NCFY library.

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Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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