Sexual health literacy

Two females sitting looking over a lake

Being sexually healthy involves managing sexual relationships and healthcare, negotiating sexual pressures, and managing the moral stigma of sexually transmitted infections, sexual identities and social norms of acceptable sexual behaviour. Applying learned information to make decisions about health in this context means being able to communicate with sexual partners about complex risk information in dynamic and changing circumstances. Sexual health literacy, therefore, is more than about individual health literacy. Sexual health literacy is grounded in community practices, is supported through multi-sectoral services, and is affected by emerging (and older) technologies. Sexual health literacy therefore demands tailored approaches to meet the specific needs of individuals and communities.

We are looking to improve understanding of sexual health literacy. We also look to understand how best to support individuals, communities and health practitioners to improve sexual health literacy in order to help reduce sexual health inequalities. Examples of our work include:

  • We have developed a holistic sexual health literacy framework for gay and bisexual men with Canadian research partners. To find out more, visit Health Literacy, Sexual Health and Gay Men framework
  • Lisa McDaid is working with Ingrid Young on Developing HIV Literacy, a CSO funded collaborative project with health and community members. This project aims to better understand and support HIV literacy in the context of biomedical HIV prevention strategies like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and treatment as prevention (TasP). This work builds on HIV & the Biomedical (2011 – 2014), which explored the acceptability of PrEP and TasP in Scotland
  • Susan Patterson (nee Martin) completed a PhD examining the role of online technologies in young people’s sexual health literacy. The research used qualitative methods to explore how young people describe and experience locating, evaluating and using online sexual health information, taking into account the specific opportunities and challenges that may apply to different social groups and contexts

We are exploring media representations of biomedical prevention strategies, like PrEP, to understand how scientific HIV research is translated and mobilised by communities and advocates.


Lisa McDaid  
Paul Flowers   
Susan Patterson (nee Martin)


Ingrid Young, University of Edinburgh
Mark Gilbert, University of British Columbia

MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit logo 800 wide