Sexual Health Information Seeking Online Among Runaway and Homeless Youth

Anamika Barman-Adhikari, Eric Rice

Abstract


Research shows runaway and homeless youth are reluctant to seek help from traditional health providers. The Internet can be useful in engaging this population and meeting their needs for sexual health information, including information about HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Using a sample of homeless youth living in Los Angeles, California in June 2009, this study assesses the frequency with which runaway and homeless youth seek sexual health information via the Internet, and assesses which youth are more likely to engage in seeking health information from online sources.  Drawing from Andersen's (1968) health behavior model and Pescosolido's (1992) network episode model, we develop and refine a model for seeking online sexual health information among homeless youth.  Rather than testing the predicative strength of a given model, our aim is to identify and explore conceptually driven correlates that may shed light on the characteristics associated with these help seeking behaviors among homeless youth. Analyses using multivariate logistic regression models reveal that among the sample of youth, females and gay males most frequently seek sexual health information online. We demonstrate the structure of social network ties (e.g., connection with parents) and the content of interactions (e.g., e-mail forwards of health information) across ties are critical correlates of online sexual health information seeking. Results show a continued connection with parents via the Internet is significantly associated with youth seeking HIV/STI information. Similarly for content of interactions, more youth who were sent health information online also reported seeking HIV information and HIV-testing information. We discuss implications for intervention and practice, focusing on how the Internet may be used for dissemination of sexual health information and as a resource for social workers to link transient, runaway, and homeless youth to care.

Keywords


Homeless youth, sexual health information, help seeking, online communication, HIV/AIDS.

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