Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

A systematic examination of the use of Online social networking sites for sexual health promotion

Judy Gold12*, Alisa E Pedrana12, Rachel Sacks-Davis12, Margaret E Hellard123, Shanton Chang4, Steve Howard4, Louise Keogh5, Jane S Hocking5 and Mark A Stoove12

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Population Health, Burnet Institute, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

2 Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

3 The Nossal Institute for Global Health, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

4 Department of Information Systems, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

5 Centre for Women's Health, Gender and Society, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:583  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-583

Published: 21 July 2011



In recent years social networking sites (SNSs) have grown rapidly in popularity. The popularity of these sites, along with their interactive functions, offer a novel environment in which to deliver health promotion messages. The aim of this paper is to examine the extent to which SNSs are currently being used for sexual health promotion and describe the breadth of these activities.


We conducted a systematic search of published scientific literature, electronic sources (general and scientific search engines, blogs) and SNSs (Facebook, MySpace) to identify existing sexual health promotion activities using SNSs. Health promotion activities were eligible for inclusion if they related to sexual health or behaviour, utilised one or more SNSs, and involved some element of health promotion. Information regarding the source and type of health promotion activity, target population and site activity were extracted.


178 sexual health promotion activities met the inclusion criteria and were included in the review; only one activity was identified through a traditional systematic search of the published scientific literature. Activities most commonly used one SNS, were conducted by not-for-profit organisations, targeted young people and involved information delivery. Facebook was the most commonly used SNS (used by 71% of all health promotion activities identified), followed by MySpace and Twitter. Seventy nine percent of activities on MySpace were considered inactive as there had been no online posts within the past month, compared to 22% of activities using Facebook and 14% of activities using Twitter. The number of end-users and posts in the last seven days varied greatly between health promotion activities.


SNSs are being used for sexual health promotion, although the extent to which they are utilised varies greatly, and the vast majority of activities are unreported in the scientific literature. Future studies should examine the key factors for success among those activities attracting a large and active user base, and how success might be measured, in order to guide the development of future health promotion activities in this emerging setting.

Social networking sites; health promotion; sexual health