Young people respect themselves

Early indications show that Warwickshire’s Respect Yourself website is having a positive influence on young people’s attitude towards sex and relationships. Print

Research conducted by health psychologists at Coventry University for the West Midlands Health Innovation and Education Cluster (HIEC) demonstrates an improved perception of, and access to, sexual health services following the launch of website.

In addition, analysis of how young people are using the website and the mobile phone application demonstrates a shift in behaviour with more young people seeking information about emotional issues now than when the website launched last summer.

The HIEC study investigated how girls and boys aged 13 to 18 thought about, and used sexual health services and information. Young people completed questionnaires with the same set of questions before and after they used the Respect Yourself website and app, with a view to determining how the resource changed their perceptions and behaviour.

The findings show statistically significant changes in the research participants over time. More boys reported accessing sexual health services at follow-up, and the belief that sexual health service access is normal and acceptable increased in girls. Improvements were also apparent in the young people’s understanding about what sexual health services offer and how to access them, and in confidence to communicate with sexual health professionals.

Health psychologist Dr Katherine Brown led the evaluation work on the project. She explained: “These are promising results offering an indication of a decrease in psychological barriers to service access and an increase in actual access.

“Early analysis of objective data also shows a significant increase in service access for Genitourinary Medicine (GUM) clinics in Warwickshire where STI rates and unplanned pregnancies tend to be higher. We must recognise however that this type of research cannot tell us about cause and effect.

“It is difficult for us to rule out a wide number of variables which may have influenced the young people’s opinions and attitudes between the test times but combined with other observations, and evaluation of the web site and app usage, evidence that the resource is making a difference is strong. We intend to continue evaluation in the future.”

The nature of the questions received through the website has shifted from those which concern sexual practices to more emotional matters. An average of five questions a day now come from young people, specifically regarding relationships and sexual health.  This indicates not only a need for the service but also demonstrates trust in the responses provided to very personal matters.

Analysis of how the website is being used shows a sustained increase in the number of visits which, averaging at 100 per day is 20 times higher than before the resource was launched last summer. After the ‘pleasure zones’ page, the emotional health and well-being section of the website is the most visited with people spending on average six minutes looking at information.

John Linnane, Warwickshire’s Director of Public Health, said: “Whilst we have modelled this work on the Dutch approach – where teenage pregnancy rates are five times lower than the UK – we need to remember it took almost thirty years for them to get to this position. These encouraging results are just the first step in a long process which we are fully committed to in Warwickshire.”

Amy Danahay, Respect Yourself Campaign Manager, said: “We see so many national reports about the sexualisation of young people, open access to pornography, high teenage pregnancy rates, and an increase in abusive teenage relationships and we all recognise that something needs to happen to reverse these trends.

“What we are doing is so relevant right now. These recent results prove that we are giving young people the power to confidently make positive and informed choices about their relationships and sexual health, and giving them the courage to speak out if they don’t feel comfortable and safe.”

Warwickshire County Councillor Heather Timms, portfolio holder for Children, Young People and Families, added: “All this is a testament to the hard work, belief, and dedication to the project from everyone involved. The input from pupils at The Avon Valley School has also been invaluable. They offered a true insight into the minds of young people and helped the project team stay true to their vision; to create a resource for young people with their needs right at the heart of the matter.”

For more information go to www.respectyourself.info.