The ethics of sextech – is design justice compatible with market demands?

Kath Albury, Zahra Stardust, Jenny Kennedy

Background: The Australian 2018-2022 Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) Strategy observed that “understanding the social drivers that influence the rates of STI in Australia, such as social media and other technology platforms” was a critical gap in then-current sexual health service provision. Since the Strategy was released, the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated rapid and urgent adoption of digital technologies within both clinical services and sexual health outreach. Simultaneously, social media, dating apps and associated technologies saw an upsurge of use among everyday users seeking social and sexual connection (Dietzel et al, 2021).

Aims: Digital literacy has been identified within research and practice as a key attribute of health literacy – particularly for health consumers. Similarly, data literacy is emerging as a desirable attribute for both consumers and service providers alike. This paper examines what the terms ‘digital literacy’ and ‘data literacy’ mean in the context of sexual health.

Methods: This paper reflects on qualitative interviews with researchers and practitioners across the fields of public health, media studies, and data studies, exploring the ways digital literacy and data literacy are currently understood (and practiced) within sexual health.

Results: Interviews demonstrated that just as health literacy is increasingly recognized as not simply an individual attribute, but an outcome of systemic or organisational capacity and capability (Sørensen et al, 2021), digital literacy and data literacy are best understood in relation to collective cultures and practices.

Conclusions: We conclude by proposing a preliminary framework for understanding digital and data literacy within sexual health policy and practice.