Improving the Sexual Health of Young People (under 25) in High-Risk Populations: A Systematic Review of Behavioural and Psychosocial Interventions

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Aug 27;18(17):9063. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18179063.


Background: Ensuring young people experience good sexual health is a key public health concern, yet some vulnerable groups of young people remain at higher risk of poor sexual health. These individuals require additional support to achieve good sexual health but the best way to provide this remains needs to be better understood. Methods: We searched for randomised controlled trials of behavioural and psychosocial interventions aimed at promoting sexual health in high-risk young populations. Outcomes of interest were indicators of sexual health (e.g., condom use, attitudes to contraception, knowledge of risk). Participants were under 25 years old and in one of the following high-risk groups: alcohol and other drug use; ethnic minority; homeless; justice-involved; LGBTQI+; mental ill-health; or out-of-home care. Results: Twenty-eight papers from 26 trials met our inclusion criteria, with all but one conducted in North America. Condom use was the most frequently reported outcome measure along with knowledge and attitudes towards sexual health but considerable differences in measures used made comparisons across studies difficult. Change in knowledge and attitudes did not consistently result in long-term change in behaviours. Conclusions: There remains a dearth of research undertaken outside of North America across all high-risk groups of young people. Future interventions should address sexual health more broadly than just the absence of negative biological outcomes, with LGBTQI+, homeless and mental ill-health populations targeted for such work. An international consensus on outcome measures would support the research field going forward, making future meta-analyses possible.

Keywords: adolescents; at risk populations; high risk youth; sexual health; young people.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Ethnicity
  • Humans
  • Minority Groups
  • Psychosocial Intervention
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexual Health*