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Acceptability and potential impact of delivering sexual health promotion information through social media and dating apps to MSM in England: a qualitative study

BMC Public Health, 2019; 19:1236 (doi:10.1186/s12889-019-7558-7). Published online 09 September 2019.

Authors: Joanna M. Kesten, Kaiseree Dias, Fiona Burns, Paul Crook, Alison Howarth, Catherine H. Mercer, Alison Rodger, Ian Simms, Isabel Oliver, Matthew Hickman, Gwenda Hughes & Peter Weatherburn

Abstract

Background: Increasing rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM) in England is a pressing public health concern. Interventions targeting MSM, including information provision that effectively promotes sexual health, are needed. To support such intervention development, it is necessary to understand acceptable ways of delivering sexual health information. We explored the acceptability and potential uses and impacts of delivering sexual health information to MSM through social media and geosocial networking apps or dating apps.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted in person or by telephone with 25 MSM resident in England recruited via dating apps and social media advertisements. Interviews explored sexual health information sources, perceptions and uses. Attitudes towards sexual health promotion through social media and dating apps were then discussed. The data were analysed using thematic analysis.

Results: Sexual health information delivery through social media and dating apps was considered acceptable. Receiving information when browsing social media was viewed positively by most, as people have time to absorb information. In contrast, concerns were expressed that sharing or commenting on social media sexual health information may lead to judgements and discrimination. While social media reaches a high proportion of the population, dating apps can easily target MSM. However, tensions exist between the ability to provide information at an opportune time through dating apps, when users are connecting with new sexual partners, with the potential to adversely affect the app user’s experience. Hypothetical and actual uses and impacts of sexual health information ranged from no impact to reading information, sharing with peers, and increased awareness, to influencing healthcare-seeking, decision-making and risk-taking behaviours. Ensuring that information is engaging, positive in tone, not too clinical, focused on building social norms and delivered by trusted organisations were viewed as important for supporting its use.

Conclusions: Overall, these findings support the development of new interventions that use dating apps and social media for sexual health promotion.

Keywords: Qualitative research; Acceptability; Sexual health information; Men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM); Dating apps; Social media

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