Adolescents engage in disproportionate risky behaviors relative to adults. One consequence of these actions is exposure to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and in particular, HIV. Educating these young people about STI/HIV prevention and treatment is one of the primary goals of the public health community. However, adolescents are often reluctant to get tested, let alone disclose these health conditions, which pose challenges to health practitioners. In Canada, the number of young people being diagnosed with STI/HIV is on the rise and has created the need for innovative and immediate strategies aimed at reaching these teens. Jean Shoveller, of the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia, theorized that using technology and media outlets, accessible and favorable resources for teens, might increase the testing rates and ultimately help prevent future transmission.
In order to gauge how adolescents respond to online sexual health programs, Shoveller interviewed 52 people between the ages of 15 and 24, who had been tested or thought of being tested for STI/HIV. Shoveller inquired about their preference for online education programs and counseling resources, such as forums, chat rooms, internet referrals, or email messages. Overall, the participants found online education to be easy to access and that it expedited testing services and counseling; it was also secure with respect to privacy. But they expressed dissatisfaction with outdated technological components, such as having to print certain forms for lab work, rather than merely submitting them electronically.
Shoveller acknowledges that these factors could present obstacles that dissuade teens from pursuing much-needed treatment and testing. In spite of this glitch, this study sheds light on a novel approach to this dilemma. Shoveller added, “Also, because many previous studies have focused on youth’s engagement with clinics, general practitioners, and/or family doctors, with prevailing commentaries focusing on a lack of fit between existing services and youth’s needs, our findings offer some much-needed empirical evidence about new avenues—specifically, new sites where youth might reasonably be expected to go in order to seek help with sexual health concerns, especially in our contemporary, net-savvy world.”
Shoveller, J., Knight, R., Davis, W., Gilbert, M., Ogilvie, G. Online Sexual Health Services: Examining Youth’s Perspectives. Canadian Journal of Public Health 103.1 (2012): 14-18. Print.
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