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Serious games for serious issues: reducing high-risk sexual behavior in adolescents through a mobile phone game

Aileen Gariepy, Yale School of Medicine

Project abstract

Background: Innovative strategies are crucial to addressing the epidemic of high-risk sexual behavior (e.g. vaginal intercourse without condoms, multiple sexual partners, intercourse under the influence of drugs) in U.S. adolescents, which exposes individuals to unintended pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections. Videogame interventions have been shown to change behaviors, however there is a gap in interventions focused specifically on sexual risk-reduction in adolescents. Reaching adolescents through videogames may be a groundbreaking opportunity.

Methods: We propose a mixed-methods study to develop and test a mobile phone game for high-risk adolescents 15-17 years old that will serve as the study's intervention. The game will focus on improving risk perception and self-efficacy regarding high-risk sexual behavior by targeting sexual knowledge, intentions regarding sexual decision making (number of partners, intercourse under the influence of drugs, condom use), and agency regarding condom negotiation and use). The formative research is essential to developing an intervention responsive to the target audience's needs and preferences.

Anticipated results: We will develop an interactive mobile phone game for adolescents with short-term effects of improving sexual knowledge, intentions regarding sexual decision making, and self-efficacy regarding condom negotiation and use; and long-term potential to decrease high-risk sexual behavior among adolescents. We plan to have preliminary efficacy data that supports the use our game intervention with adolescents. Results of this study will provide the framework for a future randomized trial to test whether the mobile game can decrease high-risk sexual behavior among adolescents, and thereby potentially decrease unintended pregnancy and HIV/STIs among adolescents.

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