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The Power of Online Forums: A Lifeline for Young People Seeking Sexual Health Advice 

For #SHW23, we’re Playing It Safe. Leshmi Geraghty is Head of Safeguarding at The Student Room, the UK’s largest online student community. In this blog she explores the importance of online forums in providing sexual health advice to young people, highlighting their benefits as well as potential risks, and explains how to use online communities safely. 

In today’s digital age, online forums have become an invaluable resource for individuals seeking information and support on a wide range of topics.

For young people navigating the complexities of sexual health, these platforms offer a safe and anonymous space to find advice, share experiences, and connect with others facing similar challenges. The Student Room, the UK’s largest online student community, provides just this and my role as Head of Safeguarding involves ensuring that The Student Room community remains a safe, welcoming, and supportive place for peer-to-peer student connections and conversations. 

One of the key advantages of The Student Room is the ability to maintain anonymity while seeking advice or sharing personal experiences. This anonymity can be particularly crucial for young people who may feel uncomfortable discussing sensitive topics with friends, family members, or healthcare professionals.

By using pseudonyms or usernames, individuals can freely express their concerns without fear of judgment or stigma. 

The Student Room brings together a diverse community of individuals from different backgrounds and experiences. This diversity allows young people to gain insights from a wide range of perspectives, including those they may not encounter in their immediate social circles. By engaging with others who have faced similar challenges or have expert knowledge in sexual health, young people can broaden their understanding and make informed decisions about their own well-being. 

Navigating sexual health issues can be overwhelming and isolating for young people.

The Student Room provides a platform for peer support where individuals can connect with others who are going through similar experiences.

Sharing stories, offering advice, and receiving empathy from others who have faced similar challenges can be immensely comforting and empowering for young people seeking guidance. 

While The Student Room can be a valuable resource, it is essential to be aware of potential risks below and take necessary precautions, my role involves mitigating the risks for The Student Room to ensure young people are kept safe. 

The Student Room can provide peer support but this should not replace professional medical advice. It is important for young people to consult healthcare professionals for accurate diagnosis, treatment options and personalised guidance.  

When encountering advice or information on online forums, it is essential to approach it with a critical mindset.

Young people should cross-reference the advice received on forums with reputable sources such as the NHS or Brook. As part of Sexual Health Week 2022, we hosted Brook on the community, where they were able to answer young people’s sexual health concerns both on the public sexual health forum as well as a private ‘’virtual sexual health clinic’’ forum. We’ll be carrying out this partnership again as part of Sexual Health Week 2023

We encourage all young people using The Student Room platform to engage in respectful and constructive discussions while maintaining their own boundaries. It is important to remember that not all advice provided on The Student Room may be suitable for everyone, and it is okay to seek professional guidance when needed. 

Young people should also be cautious about sharing personal information on online forums.

Avoid disclosing real names, addresses, phone numbers, or any other identifying details that could compromise privacy and safety. 

If young people come across any suspicious or harmful behaviour on The Student Room, they should report it using the reporting tools provided on the website to the forum moderators. Reporting such incidents helps maintain a safe environment for all users. 

The Student Room plays a vital role in providing sexual health advice to young people, offering a safe and supportive environment for them to seek information, share experiences, and connect with others. While The Student can be a valuable resource, it is crucial for young people to approach the information critically, verify its accuracy, and consult healthcare professionals when necessary.  

This is why the partnership between Brook and The Student Room is vital during Sexual Health week, raising awareness of the work Brook do and the services they provide across the platform has always been of great importance to me and having Brook, a trusted voice present on the forums, ensures young people can gain knowledge, support, and empowerment on their journey towards sexual health and wellbeing. 

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