Ten Sexual Health Behaviors

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Health Behavior Messages Shown to Improve
Teen Sexual Health

As far as I'm concerned, being any gender is a drag.
                                                             -- Patti Smith

To have an effective sexual health social marketing campaign, messages developed should be based in behavioral theory, resonate with youth and focus on behaviors that specifically impact teen pregnancy and STD transmission.

Dr. Douglas Kirby from ETR Associates is a leading expert on the effectiveness of school and community programs designed to reduce adolescent sexual risk-taking behaviors.  He has studied dozens of curricula to determine which specific aspects of sexual health education make for successful programs.

Kirby's research has shown that when developing messages for your interventions, it is important to keep the following things in mind:

  • Be consistent with local pregnancy and STD prevention goals
  • Be consistent with family and community values
  • Focus on primary prevention
  • Make sure the messages are research-based:
       o What is the ability of the intervention to change each
       o What are the actual sexual behaviors of your priority
          population that need to be changed?  
  • Be very clear and specific about what you are trying to convey in the messages
  • Tailor the messages for different groups (appropriate to gender, age, and sexual behavior)

Kirby’s research also found that 10 behaviors directly impact teen pregnancy and STD transmission.  These behaviors are a good focus for providing clear and direct prevention messages for youth:

  1. Delay or abstain from sex
  2. Decrease frequency of sex
  3. Reduce number of sexual partners
  4. Avoid concurrent partners (multiple partners in the same timeframe)
  5. Increase time gap between sexual partners
  6. Use a condom consistently and correctly
  7. Use contraception consistently and correctly
  8. Be tested and treated for STDs
  9. Be vaccinated*
  10. Be circumcised (males only)*

*Note: Vaccination and circumcision are both interventions that are primarily directed by the parents' of youth. In some settings, it may be worth exploring these behaviors to inform message design, but this toolkit is focused on youth as the priority population for social marketing campaigns.           

Since it is difficult to develop a message that targets all ten behaviors, these behaviors can be grouped into message categories. Then, when choosing messages for your social marketing campaigns, you can use one of the following message categories that works best for your priority population:  

  • Deciding whether or not to have sex (includes: delaying sex, abstinence, reducing frequency of sex)
  • Having only long term mutually monogamous relationships (includes: reduce number of partners, avoid concurrent partners, increase time between partners)
  • Use condoms consistently and correctly
  • Use female contraception consistently and correctly
  • Be tested and treated for STDs

For more information on those research results, read Emerging Answers 2007: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases by Dr. Kirby and produced for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. 


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