Social Media, Mobile Technology Provide New Opportunities for Sexual Health Education

By Margaux Joffe Our purpose at Likeable Media is to “create a more Likeable world.” One way we do this is by helping government agencies and non-profits leverage social media for social good. We have worked with both state and local health departments in New York and Massachusetts, utilizing social media platforms to tackle tough public health issues such as violence prevention, smoking cessation, obesity, sexual health and STD prevention.

Last Friday I attended a briefing on youth reproductive health in the digital age, hosted by ISIS and the Ford Foundation. The presentation illuminated key findings from the latest research on how youth are using technology to learn, communicate and discuss sexual and reproductive health.  The overall takeaway was that youth want access to confidential sexual health info from a trusted source, and prefer to receive this info on their mobile device.



The digital divide is a myth

The digital divide has all but disappeared, with little difference in technology usage based on gender, race or class. A combined 93% of respondents own either a cell phone or smartphone, and 67% own a laptop. Lower income teens may have a basic cell phone instead of a smartphone, but they are using advanced features on their entry level devices to do the same activities: listen to music, watch videos, play games browse the web, and use social media. The takeaway learning is that programs need to be created for particular target audiences according to how they use their device, not what devices they have.


Google is the first place 89% of urban youth go when they have a question about their sexual health.  Most respondents utilize online search to learn about birth control, and talk to friends rather than to family members about STIs, suggesting that there is still a stigma around talking face-to-face about STIs at home or in the classroom. In response to these findings, ISIS recently developed an online sex-ed curriculum. This data underlines the need for effective SEO and AdWords to ensure that accurate and youth-friendly results rise to the top of search results.

Social Platforms

81% of youth surveyed use Facebook for everything – chat, email, and news – rather than going online to surf the web. Facebook is an excellent place to engage youth around issues that affect their health. However, the study found that teens have concerns about privacy issues and don’t want to share personal info that relates to their health. However, they do want a trusted source to answer their questions. One strategy is to use an anonymous question box on a brand’s Facebook page, where teens can ask questions that are answered by health professionals. Another concept could be a Facebook app that would allow youth to chat with an advice nurse from a trusted brand or institution.

Another interesting finding is that Tumblr is rising in popularity among youth – they are using it more and staying on the site longer. Tumblr has successfully gained a following among boys and young men because of its highly visual and humorous elements. This would be another great platform to examine for future sexual health programs.


Research shows that youth want to access health information in a way that is anonymous, confidential and convenient, and their mobile devices are the preferred means of doing so. The ISIS study found that teens are interested in receiving regular text messages to their phone with health tips and advice. The hook-up and SexInfo are two existing text messaging programs that connect youth to health resources. Another potential idea, would be a mobile app that regularly sent text messages containing educational images and videos about sexual health that teens could view and delete discretely.


Government agencies, Non-profit organizations, and other health-related advocacy groups have a great opportunity leverage social and mobile platforms to engage with youth around health issues. The key is to continually stay up to date on how youth are using social and mobile media – which platforms they prefer, and how they want to receive info that relates to their health. To learn more, visit ISIS or download their white paper here.

Do you work in education, health, or youth services? Are you a marketing professional that has worked on health education campaigns? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments!