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Recently, the Guttmacher Institute published an article that all EmpowHER readers, writers and supporters may find interesting. The article analyzed the results of Ann E. Biddlecom’s study on whether American teenagers seek sexual health information from the Internet. Apparently, despite the fact that Internet usage among adolescents is almost universal and the number of hours/day teenagers report spending on a computer increases annually, when it comes to finding information on sexual health, young people look elsewhere.
As someone who writes about sexual health for an online community, often with a young adult target group in mind, I’m not quite sure what to make of this news.
While Biddlecom’s study is relatively small, using information gathered from only 58 interviews with individual high school students in New York and Indiana, its results are still quite telling. Students informed their interviewers that they were more comfortable receiving information about sex and reproductive health from “education sources such as school, family members, and friends,” rather than the Internet. These otherwise web-savvy teens show unusual foresight in their skepticism toward online sources, saying that it is hard to tell which sites have medically accurate or current information. In an age where many adults rely on websites like Web MD or Ask.com to diagnose their ailments or provide holistic, homeopathic cures, I was surprised to learn that the younger generation prefers a more traditional source of health facts. This is especially surprising because they tend to trust the Internet in so many other contexts: as a news source, as a forum for social interaction, to gather facts for homework assignments, to sample a variety of entertainment styles, etc.
So, what can people who are interested in providing accurate sexual health information to as many young people as possible take away from this study?
Biddlecom’s conclusion – which I whole-heartedly agree with – is that now more than ever, we must fight for science-based, age-appropriate sex education curriculum in schools.