Are Teens Using the Internet for Sex Education?

A recent study by the Guttmacher Institute shows that teens are more likely to turn to family members, school, or medical professionals for information on sexual health than to the Internet. In-depth interviews at three public high schools in New York and Indiana found that only a minority of the 58 study participants reported that they got any contraceptive or abstinence information online – those who did access sexual health websites only did so in response to a specific event (such as a school assignment). As cited on the Guttmacher Institute website, most of the teens interviewed were wary of sexual health information on the Internet and had a distrust for online information since it is often user-generated and could be incorrect. It was found that teens were most likely to trust family members (usually parents) for sexual health information with their next most trusted sources being educators, medical professionals, and friends.

While this study provides some interesting food for thought, the sample size is very small and comes from only one small geographic area. We can’t realistically say, based on this study alone, that most teens don’t use the Internet to get information about reproductive health. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular teen sexual health websites. Does it seem like teens are utilizing these websites for personal information, or just for class assignments? How many teens actually use these sexual health websites? And also, are high-risk teens utilizing these websites, especially teens that might already have a child?

www.teensource.org – Teensource’s motto is “Sexual health info for youth to encourage informed decision making.” The purpose of Teensource, developed by the California Family Health Council, is to improve the health and well-being of young people in California by providing non-judgmental, accurate, and reliable sexual and reproductive health information and resources. Teensource has accurate and reliable information about STDs and birth control and includes features such as “The Hookup,” a weekly sex info and life advice sent via text message, a “Find a Clinic” section, and a new YouTube station packed full of videos by celebrities and about Teensource.

Teensource seems to definitely have a following, but the extent of that following is hard to gauge. Their highest viewed YouTube video has over 24,000 hits, but the majority of the videos are between 1,000-5,000 hits. For comparison, a baby dancing to Beyonce on YouTube has 17,118,645 views. They have 466 followers on Twitter and 137 “Likes” on Facebook. The majority of their Facebook comments, though, are met with little response. Alexa, a website that does web traffic reporting, ranks Teensource #966,459 out of over 25 million sites in the world for traffic. (Alexa ranked over 25 million sites based on a formula that includes number of hits a site received, page views, duration of the time spent on a page or site, and other factors.) Alexa also notes that this site is most popular with ages under 25, people who have attended no college or some college, females, and people who have not had children.

www.scarleteen.com – Scarleteen’s motto is “Sex Ed for the real world.” Scarleteen is visited

by around three-quarters of a million people each month worldwide. It is the highest-ranked website for sex education and sexuality advice online and has held that rank through most of its tenure. According to Alexa, Scarleteen is ranked #37,630 in the world and Scarleteen’s audience tends to be aged under 25 – it also appeals more to low-income, childless women who are not college graduates.

www.teenshealth.org – TeensHealth teaches the

facts about sexual health with articles about puberty, menstruation, infections, birth control, and much more. This website has great static information for teens with article topics such as “Am I Still a Virgin If I Use a Tampon?” “Irregular Periods,” “Telling Parents You’re Pregnant,” and “Virginity: A Very Personal Decision.” Unfortunately, this site doesn’t have much in the way of interactive content, without many message boards or a referral system that I can see.

TeensHealth is ranked #1,059,042 by Alexa and the majority of its visitors are under 24. Its visitors are also more likely to have had some college, more likely to be female, and more likely to have had children.

www.sexetc.org – Sex, etc.’s motto is “Sex education by teens, for teens!” Sex, etc. includes stories written by teens, an “Ask the Experts” section which allows teens to submit questions and receive personal and confidential answers via e-mail, forums where teens can participate in moderated discussions with other teens, videos about sexual health, and a sex terms glossary.

Alexa ranks Sex, etc. #94,557 and the majority of its visitors are under 24, have not been to college or only attended some college, has slightly more female visitors, and most visitors are viewing from home or school.

www.stayteen.org – Stay Teen’s goal is to encourage teens to enjoy their teen years and avoid the responsibilities that

come with too-early pregnancy and parenting. StayTeen is created by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and includes videos, games, and lots of content on the MTV reality show, 16 and Pregnant.

StayTeen is ranked #817,997 by Alexa and is mainly viewed by visitors under 24 and between 45-54. The site also has a majority female audience and is frequented by people with either no college education or a college degree.

 

I am definitely not an expert on web traffic or traffic rankings, but although some teens might not seek out reproductive health information online, it does seem like sexual health websites are getting quite a lot of traffic, especially Scarleteen and Sex, etc. It also seems like the age group and education level of people that are frequenting these sites are those that need the information the most, for more than just school assignments.

What are your thoughts on the Guttmacher study and these teen sexual health websites? Do you think that teens are utilizing sexual health websites, and if they are, is that a good thing? Feel free to leave a comment or e-mail tnca@teennowcalifornia.org.

 

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