Study Strives to Help Adolescents Understand Sexual Dangers

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With half of STD cases in the U.S. coming from those under 25, health care providers have long sought the best means of educating young people about risky sexual behavior.

New research out from the Yale School of Medicine suggests there may be value in both positive and negative forms of messaging to reach young people.

According to the researchers, 48 percent of young people have had sex by 18, including 6 percent by age 13. Researchers have long known early sexual behavior increases the risk later on of STDs and unwanted pregnancies.

Using positive messages has been shown to work best with adults when warning about STDs. These messages are usually less reliant on fear or consequences.

Researchers asked adolescents aged 10 to 14 to rate three separate STD public information messages.

“There may be value in positive

and negative forms of messaging.”

The negative message read, “Sex at a young age can lead to sexually transmitted infections, HIV or pregnancy, which can prevent you from reaching your goals.”

The positive message read, “Waiting to have sex until you are older is the safest and most effective way to avoid getting a sexually transmitted infection and to prevent pregnancy.”

Unlike adults, adolescents were found to respond to the two differing types roughly the same.

“These findings speak to the need for us to carefully consider our audience when we apply message-framing principles,” said senior author Lindsay Duncan, an assistant professor at McGill University. “The techniques that work to promote healthy behavior in adults may not be the same as those that work best for adolescents.”

Further research is needed, according to Duncan, to understand how young people interpret information about risky sexual behavior.

As the study puts it, “Understanding how to motivate sexual risk reduction behaviors is a key step toward improving health outcomes among adolescents.”

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