From February 2017, information about the work of the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow is available and updated on the University of Glasgow website.

Sexual health in the media

Understanding how health research and issues are presented to the public through the analysis of media representations of these could help to identify potential avenues for future HIV/STI prevention. The Scottish Government’s Sexual Health & Blood Borne Virus (BBV) Framework 2011-15 aims to reduce new STIs, BBVs and unintended pregnancies and recognises the importance of encouraging a ‘positive portrayal of sexual health and BBV issues in the media’. The ‘Sexual Health in the Media’ Project will examine how sexual health and BBV issues are presented in the media, in collaboration with Shona Hilton (Understanding and Use of Public Health Research) and will provide baseline data to measure this key indicator of the Scottish Government’s Sexual Health and BBV Framework.


Using a method of content analysis developed by Shona Hilton, quantitative and qualitative analyses were carried out to shed light on the portrayal of sexual health and BBV issues in the media in 2010. The first quantitative analysis reviewed 677 articles published during 2010 in 12 national (UK and Scottish) newspapers and found negatively toned articles focusing on failures or blame to be common, particularly within HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, and other sexual transmitted infection coverage. Particular individuals, behaviours, and risk groups were focused on and a gender imbalance was evident, particularly within reproductive health articles (71% focused on women, 23% on men), raising questions concerning gender stereotyping.

To explore some of the findings from the quantitative analysis in more detail, two additional qualitative analyses were carried out on a subgroup of articles. The first explored the negative framing of risk and responsibility in relation to gender. This analysis found that men were framed as a risk to women’s sexual health, whilst women were presented at the same time as responsible for patrolling sexual encounters, organising contraception and preventing sexual ill health. Such portrayals reinforce gender stereotypes and undermine efforts to promote a collective responsibility for sexual health. The second qualitative analysis analysed articles for overall framings of abortion and emergent themes, including potentially stigmatising discursive constructs and language. Abortion was found to be presented using predominantly negative language and key perspectives were found to be absent or marginalised. Such negative media representations of abortion highlight the need to challenge the notion that abortion stigma is inevitable, and to encourage positive framings within the media and other public discourse.

The findings from the quantitative and qualitative analyses highlight the negative framing and gender stereotyping within coverage of sexual health and BBVs which has implications for sexual ill health prevention and could continue to reinforce a negative culture around sex, relationships and sexual health in the UK.



Martin S, McDaid LM, Hilton S. Double-standards in reporting of risk and responsibility for sexual health: a qualitative content analysis of negatively toned UK newsprint articles. BMC Public Health 2014;14:792

open access  

Purcell C, Hilton S, McDaid LM. The stigmatisation of abortion: a qualitative analysis of print media in Great Britain in 2010. Culture, Health & Sexuality 2014;16:1141-55

open access  


Martin S, Hilton S, McDaid LM. United Kingdom newsprint media reporting on sexual health and blood-borne viruses in 2010. Sexual Health 2013;10:546-552

open access