Background: There is a growing number of Internet-based approaches that offer young people screening for sexually transmitted infections.
Objective: This paper explores young men's views towards the barriers and facilitators of implementing an Internet-based screening approach. The study sought to consider ways in which the proposed intervention would reach and engage men across ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Methods: This qualitative study included 15 focus groups with 60 heterosexual young men (aged 16-24 years) across central Scotland, drawn across age and socioeconomic backgrounds. Focus groups began by obtaining postcode data to allocate participants to a high/low deprivation category. Focus group discussions involved exploration of men's knowledge of chlamydia, use of technology, and views toward Internet-based screening. Men were shown sample screening invitation letters, test kits, and existing screening websites to facilitate discussions. Transcripts from audio recordings were analyzed with "Framework Analysis".
Results: Men's Internet and technology use was heterogeneous in terms of individual practices, with greater use among older men (aged 20-24 years) than teenagers and some deprivation-related differences in use. We detail three themes related to barriers to successful implementation: acceptability, confidentiality and privacy concerns, and language, style, and content. These themes identify ways Internet-based screening approaches may fail to engage some men, such as by raising anxiety and failing to convey confidentiality. Men wanted screening websites to frame screening as a serious issue, rather than using humorous images and text. Participants were encouraged to reach a consensus within their groups on their broad design and style preferences for a screening website; this led to a set of common preferences that they believed were likely to engage men across age and deprivation groups and lead to greater screening uptake.
Conclusions: The Internet provides opportunities for re-evaluating how we deliver sexual health promotion and engage young men in screening. Interventions using such technology should focus on uptake by age and socioeconomic background. Young people should be engaged as coproducers of intervention materials and websites to ensure messages and content are framed appropriately within a fast-changing environment. Doing so may go some way to addressing the overall lower levels of testing and screening among men compared with women.
Keywords: Internet; adolescent male; chlamydia; qualitative research; screening; sexually transmitted diseases; socioeconomic status.