The world now has its largest youth population ever – but in many societies around the world young people lack access to the information and services they need to fulfil their aspirations. Today is the UN’s International Youth Day – a time to both celebrate the potential young women and men have to build better futures and also to acknowledge the challenges facing them.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are not just a public health issue but fundamental human rights. The ability and freedom of young people to explore, experience, and express their sexuality in healthy, positive, pleasurable and safe ways is crucial to building a future. The impact of claiming their SRHR goes further than positive health outcomes: when young people have access to health and education, they become a powerful force for economic development and positive change (1) . Comprehensive sexuality education is key to the fulfillment of young people’s SRHR – including the rights to gender equality, bodily integrity and the freedom to choose a safe and satisfying sex life free from stigma, sexual- and gender-based violence and coercion.
One of the aims of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal #4 is to “promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”, and RNW Media’s Love Matters online programme aims to provide those learning opportunities for young people around all aspects of love sex and relationships and making informed choices. Love Matters’ perspective is aspirational: focusing on pleasure and fulfilment, rather than the conventional focus on avoiding disease and dysfunction. The programme works in settings where such topics are largely taboo and reliable, youth-friendly information is hard to come by. Love Matters gets around traditional gatekeepers by offering young people access to comprehensive information and tailored content via web, social media and mobile message services.
A youth-centered approach is at the heart of Love Matters. The platforms meet young people where they are in terms of the language they use, their views on their bodies and sexuality, the gender norms they live under and their curiosity about pleasure and peer behaviour as well as the mobile phones many have in their hands.
Anonymous and accessible
Love Matters supports open, honest and non-judgmental discussions around sex and sexuality. Forums allow visitors to ask questions to qualified moderators which, in turn, sparks discussions among other participants. In this way we create communities where young people feel included, find peer-to-peer support. They can get information, read peer stories and ask questions, privately and anonymously.
The Internet’s reach to large numbers of young people and the perceived anonymity is an advantage for addressing sensitive topics. Research has shown online channels can be a highly effective way of engaging young people in sexuality education. Online content can be tailored to provide the information that young people seek, it can be private or socially networked, text based or visual and available on the go via mobile phone(2).
“Youth are eager to receive information about sexuality and relationships information and, statistically, are not likely receiving it elsewhere. They are turning to websites, discussion boards, and text messages to learn about their own sexuality, their bodies, and safer sex practices. They are also turning to each other through mediated means.”(3)
Love Matters has country specific platforms in China and India (bi-lingual Hindi and English platform), Love Matters Arabic is based in Egypt, Love Matters Africa targets Kenya and Nigeria and Amour Afrique. based in DRC, targets Francophone African countries. Love Matters platforms attracted 49 million page views in 2018 while 7.6 million followers on social media channels interacted 6.5 million times.
(2) Simon Laura & Kristian Daneback (2013) Adolescents’ Use of the Internet for Sex Education: A Thematic and Critical Review of the Literature, International Journal of Sexual Health, 25:4, 305-319, DOI: 10.1080/19317611.2013.823899
(3) Pascoe, C. J. (2011) Resource and Risk: Youth Sexuality and New Media Use. In: Sex Res Soc Policy (2011) 8:5–17, DOI 10.1007/s13178-011-0042-5.