2 Nov 2018

Changing the digital ecosystem – Shaping sexual health for boys in Rajasthan

Vinita Sahasranaman, CIFF's Adolescent Sexual Health Manager in India, writes on the success of a recent CIFF-funded pilot study on influencing adolescent boys through digital marketing.

Changing boys’ behaviour and influencing them - especially on matters of sexual health - is extremely difficult and remains under-addressed. In India, even though many know about condoms, consistent condom use has been almost stagnant.

A recent study by YLabs found that despite men being key decision makers concerning contraception use, only half of sexually active men and boys (15-24) in India use condoms; 45% of whom report no knowledge of other methods. The same study on human centered design (HCD) from a CIFF investment shows that a lot of misinformation and unsafe practices arise from young men and boys’ consumption of media and pornography shared among peers.

Men in India also perpetuate high levels of violence against women; there are an average of 106 cases of rape each day, and of this figure, four out of ten victims are minors. In Rajasthan, almost two-thirds of adolescent girls who have a boyfriend report that their first sexual experience with him was forced.

This needs to change, and the best method of reaching out to adolescent boys is to meet them where they already are – on the social media platforms they use.

First, to learn more about where they are online and what content they seek, we conducted a research study into 16-19 year-old boys’ digital ecosystem. We partnered with Quilt.Ai, a digital marketing organisation, to understand what 16-19 year-old boys in urban locations from Northern India are saying, consuming and searching for online.

Using state-of-art digital marketing tools (such as Look Alike Modelling), we segmented boys based on their attitudes towards women, towards sex and on their propensity to speak up. Scaling this profile to millions of boys on social media platforms, we found:

  • Belonging to a group or community is very important for boys. Currently, this is more aligned with caste-based identities. 
  • Very high expression of masculine, nationalist tropes. 
  • Boys are spending most of their time focussing on girls and gaming – high levels of virtual eve teasing (harassment of women and girls). 
  • Local businesses that share clickbait photos get more attention and clicks. 
  • Boys search most for pornography and least for topics related to employment or education (less than 1% search for sexual health related topics).


Our audience segments also gave insights into what kind of content works for different demographics. For example, we now know that to develop behaviour change interventions to reach boys at scale using social media, a particular segment of boys find humour appealing, whilst for others, horror and self-centred messaging works. These nuanced cues will help us in packaging sexual health content that appeals to a diverse range of boys.

Leading on from this stage of identifying demographics and successful marketing, we then ran a pilot to test an idea; whether we can influence shifts in online behaviour. This included the following steps:


Boys Stand Up graphic 1

Through undertaking this pilot, we discovered the following statistics and outcomes:

Boys Stand Up graphic 2

Though this was only a pilot study, it shows how effective core targeted messaging and nuanced marketing can be in shifting and increasing knowledge bases on sexual health for adolescents.

As we deepen and build the field of engaging men and boys, we must try out new tactics, as this research has shown us. If data analytics can power major political moments and sell soap brands, there is no reason why we should shy away from using data ethically, and for a socially progressive purpose.




Vinita Adult

Vinita Sahasranaman, Manager, Adolescent Sexual Health

Vinita works on adolescent sexual health and is based out of CIFF's India office in Delhi.