Emily Brick, MPH 2014
Improving the sexual health of young people is a major public health concern in New Zealand. School based sexuality education has not been effective in making significant changes to young people’s sexual health. Therefore it is advantageous to research new and innovative supplemental forms of sexual health promotion for young people.
As young people are major users of new technology and social media, this may be an effective way of doing this. However, there is a paucity of literature addressing this topic. As a result, resources have been created that may not be effectively reaching young people. Compounding this is the rapid pace at which new social media are created as well as shifts in popular social media.
The research carried out for this dissertation aimed to engage with young people in order to gain a better understanding of their experiences and perspectives of using social media for sexual health promotion. It is evident that public health organisations are taking advantage of the opportunity that social media presents to reach young people. There is a need to give voice to young people to gain a better understanding of the complex interactions that occur on social media for young people. This study used a hermeneutical phenomenological approach to access these voices.
Eight 16 – 17 year old female participants were recruited from Christchurch health clinics through purposive, non-probabilistic sampling methods. Data was collected by semi-structured in-depth interviews and analysed using a directive content analysis. All participants in this study owned devices allowing access to social media through mobile phone, laptop, and computer technology. All participants had used social media to gain sexual health information. However, the extent of this varied and was dependent on their access to other resources. Participants always used the Google search engine to gain information, often selecting the top three results regardless of reliability.
Participants discussed the importance of having sexual health information available on social media, especially for those young people who do not have other ways to access the information. However, it was made clear that this information should not be on public forms of social media such as Facebook. Participants emphasised sexual health promotion resources should be private, anonymous, relevant, relatable and interactive to properly engage young people. The current study provides valuable insight into young female’s experiences with and perspectives of the appropriate uses of social media for sexual health promotion.