Background: Few well-evaluated communications or social-marketing campaigns have attempted to address sexual-health attitudes, norms or behaviors among young African American males in the United States, despite the disproportionate burden of STDs in this population. Formative research sought to inform the development of campaign messages to increase healthy, responsible, and respectful sexual behaviors and relationships for young African American men and their partners in Washington, D.C.
The Institute for Public Health Innovation gathered information from African American males (ages 14-24 years) and their partners through five focus groups. Data from the focus groups were assessed for the degree of consensus or differences expressed by the groups, and emerging themes/patterns were reviewed and identified.
Five themes emerged from the research: (1) Desire to feel respected is a critical factor in young men’s behavior/decision making. (2) Many challenges in young men’s lives take priority over sexual health. (3) Peer pressure is a driving force for early sexual debut (12-13 years) for males. (4) Consistent condom use is a challenge for young men. (5) Young men want messages to be delivered by trusted and relevant source(s). Interviews with partners supported these findings.
Conclusions: This research suggests that young males in Washington DC feel pressure to engage in sexual activity to prove their masculinity, fit in, and be accepted. Local sexual health campaigns focused on young Black men should be designed with an understanding of the complexities of their lives and the environment/circumstances surrounding the sexual health choices they make. Young Black men should be effectively engaged throughout the design and delivery of a social marketing intervention in order for the intervention to have the most long-lasting impact. Early sexual debut indicates that campaigns must reach youth at an early age (by end of middle school/beginning of high school).