What prompts young adults in Ireland to attend health services for STI testing?
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BACKGROUND: In-depth understanding of the factors that prompt young adults to attend health services for sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing are needed to underpin sexual health programes. We conducted a qualitative study to identify and explore why young adults (18-29 years) in Ireland attended specialist and community health services for STI testing; the factors that supported/undermined their decisions to seek STI testing; and any factors that led to delay in seeking STI testing.
METHODS: Semi-structured interviews with 30 adults (21 women, 9 men). Young adults were recruited from General Practice (GP) practices, Third Level College health services, Family Planning clinics and specialist STI treatment services for men who have sex with men (MSM). Interview questions examined why respondents decided to go for STI testing, whether they acted upon this desire immediately or decided to wait, and what they felt were important barriers/enablers to their health-seeking attempts. Interviews were thematically analyzed using standard qualitative techniques.
RESULTS: Respondents sought STI testing for one of four reasons: they had reached a transitional moment in their lives (they were either about to stop using condoms with their sexual partner or were emerging from a period of their lives where they had a series of risky sexual relationships); they had had unprotected sex with a casual partner; they had symptoms of infection; and/or they were required to do so by their employer. Catalytic factors included media and government health promotion campaigns and knowing someone with an STI. However, many respondents delayed seeking testing. Reasons included respondents' concerns about stigma and that they would be judged by healthcare professionals, and feelings of invulnerability. Importantly, several respondents who waited up to four weeks to make an appointment after their initial decision to seek STI testing did not view this as delay.
CONCLUSION: Sexual health promotion campaigns for young people should address the reasons why they delay testing, specifically through measures to avoid stigma (supply-side) and reassure young adults (demand-side). Strategies to increase testing-uptake should focus on these four key opportunities - young adults leaving relationships, those entering relationships where condoms will not be used, those who have had unprotected sex and those with STI-related symptoms.