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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Youth and online sexual health services : intersections of the social and the technical Davis, Wendy Marina


Background: Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) remain a significant public health concern, especially among youth (ages 15-24), who account for an increasingly disproportionate rate of infection. Novel, web-based interventions are being developed to improve sexual health outcomes among youth (e.g., condom use; participation in testing). To date, much of the literature in this area employs a ‘read-only’ perspective (e.g., examining frequency of use; topics of interest). Some research also has begun to explore ways in which the nexus of the social and the technical aspects of web-based health interventions may affect experiences with online STI/HIV prevention (e.g., how youth identify salient, credible online resources). For many young people, accessing sexual health resources (e.g., STI/HIV testing; counseling) remains a stigmatized activity, and it is unlikely that this will be resolved solely through the web-based provision of these services (e.g., online enactments of gendered stereotypes; traditional ‘sex-as-risk’ discourses). The objectives of this thesis are to provide an in-depth analysis of young people’s (1) perspectives on how the use of reverse discourse in online sexual health resources affects their perceptions of these resources; and (2) descriptions of their experiences with accessing online sexual health resources and their perceptions of the ways in which gender stereotypes feature in those experiences; and will discuss designing (and conducting further research on) online sexual health resources for youth. Results: Youth’s experiences with online sexual health resources are heavily influenced by ‘real world’ youth culture (e.g., values; beliefs; practices). These analyses provide an in-depth examination of the ways in which reverse discourse within online sexual health resource contexts can negatively affect perceptions of these resources, as well as illustrate the ways in which gendered stereotypes regarding sexual health help-seeking practices extend to online practices. Discussion: Intersections of the social and technical aspects of Internet-based sexual health resources need to be addressed in order to generate more equitable opportunities for young people to engage with sexual health resources.

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