Sexuality Research and Social Policy

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 12–21 | Cite as

Challenges in Reach with Online Sexual Health Information Among African American Youth: Assessing Access and Engagement

  • M. Margaret DolciniEmail author
  • Joseph A. Catania
  • Coral Cotto-Negron
  • Jesse A. Canchola
  • Jocelyn Warren
  • Cara Ashworth
  • Gary W. Harper
  • Senna Towner


There is a need for sexual health promotion among African American youth. The internet is an efficient means of delivering sexual health information (SHI). However, there may be disparities that reduce internet reach to low-income African American youth. The present mixed-methods study analyzed data from the U.S. Current Population Survey (national household sample; ages 14–17) and the Two-Cities Study (Chicago, San Francisco; low-income African Americans, ages 15–17) to examine internet reach, defined as access and engagement. We found that nationally, in-home internet access and cell/smartphone ownership varied by income and race/ethnicity. In-home internet access (52%) and cell/smartphone ownership (75%) were lowest among low-income African American youth. Access from other locations (e.g., libraries, schools) was also quite low. The Two-Cities Study showed that internet access and site engagement were limited by site blocking, poor privacy, affordability, and trust. Youths’ trust in SHI was conditional on their ability to authenticate SHI websites. Our study suggests that there is limited reach into African American and low-income groups, which may be addressed by decreasing internet blocking, enhancing privacy, and supporting community programs and policies to facilitate internet access. Trust in sexual health websites may be increased through directed engagement and authentication by health experts. Without higher levels of access and implementation of strategies to enhance engagement, the potential of the internet as a vehicle for sexual health promotion among African American youth will not be realized.


Reach Engagement Internet Sexual health Adolescents African American Access Trust 



This research was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. We would like to thank the Bureau of the Census for making the CPS data available, the communities and participants for Two-Cities Study, and Amy Young for supporting manuscript preparation.


This research was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, grant number R01 HD061027-01, awarded to M.M.D.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethics Approval and Consent to Participate

The institutional review boards of the sponsoring institutions approved the study. We obtained written informed consent from parents/guardians and written assent from the youth providing interviews.

Consent for Publication

All authors have approved this manuscript for submission.

Availability of Data and Material

The current study used two data sets. One data set analyzed for the current study is available from the United States Census Bureau Current Population Survey at (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006, 2013). Study-related material from the second data set is available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Margaret Dolcini
    • 1
    Email author
  • Joseph A. Catania
    • 1
  • Coral Cotto-Negron
    • 1
  • Jesse A. Canchola
    • 2
  • Jocelyn Warren
    • 3
  • Cara Ashworth
    • 1
  • Gary W. Harper
    • 4
  • Senna Towner
    • 5
  1. 1.Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families, College of Public Health and Human SciencesOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  2. 2.StatCon ConsultingHaywardUSA
  3. 3.Lane County Department of Public HealthEugeneUSA
  4. 4.School of Public HealthUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  5. 5.Department of Health & Human DevelopmentWestern Washington UniversityBellinghamUSA

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