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Online sexual health services: examining youth’s perspectives

Research theme(s)
Digital Health

Jean Shoveller, Rod Knight, Wendy Davis, Mark Gilbert, Gina Ogilvie.

Canadian Journal of Public Health, 2012 Jan-Feb;103(1):14-18

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are high and rising in British Columbia, Canada, and youth ages 15-24 account for a disproportionate amount of the infections. As a result, new public health interventions have increasingly turned towards media such as the internet to reach youth populations at risk for STIs/HIV. We describe youth’s perceptions about online sexual health services.

We used data from in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 38 men and 14 women between the ages of 15 and 24 who discussed: online STI/HIV testing services and online counselling and education services.

In general, youth are familiar with, receptive to and have an affinity for online sexual health services. Youth in the current study suggested that online STI/HIV risk assessment and testing as well as online counselling and education could enhance opportunities for low-threshold service provision. Online services appealed to youth’s needs for convenience, privacy, as well as expedient access to testing and/or counselling; however, youth also appear to have relatively low tolerance for technologies that they perceive to be antiquated (e.g., printing lab requisition forms), revealing the challenges of designing online approaches that will not quickly become outdated.

Globally, pilot programs for Internet-based sexual health services such as online testing and partner notification have shown promising results. As Canadian interventions of this type emerge, research with youth populations can provide relevant insights to help program planners launch effective interventions.