The age Australian teens are first having sex is getting younger, prompting a call for increased sexual health education for young people.
The sexual activity of Australian teenagers is measured in a national survey by La Trobe University every six years. In the last survey, the percentage of students who reported having had sexual intercourse was:
- 27.4% for year 10 students
- 56.1% for year 12 students.
Over time, the survey has revealed a downward trend in the age our teenagers are first having sex: six years earlier, 25.8% of year 10 students and 46.8% of year 12 students were sexually active.
The latest figures have prompted the NSW Commissioner for Children and Young People, Megan Mitchell, to call for increased sexual health education for young people.
NSW results were published this month in the Commission’s online databook, A picture of NSW children. Figures in NSW are higher than the national average, with 32% of year 10 students (average age 15 to 16) reporting having had sex.
“In line with international trends, there has been a fall in the age of onset of first sexual activity in Australia, exposing young people to a higher risk of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections,” said Commissioner Mitchell.
Sexual health education not keeping up with trends
Liz Walker from Youth Wellbeing Project delivers sexual health education programs to Australian high schools. She points out that data being reported now is not revealing the latest, most accurate, picture.
“Most of the recent national data for student sexual health is taken from the Secondary Students and Sexual Health 2008 study carried out by La Trobe University,” Liz explains. “This is an excellent snapshot, however it is only released every six years.”
Between 2002 and 2008, reported cases of chlamydia in the 15 to 19 year age bracket increased from 5,652 to 14,560. In just half that time, over the past three years, Liz says this figure has skyrocketed again to 21,661. In the 10–14 age bracket, chlamydia doubled from 251 to 508 reported cases between 2002 and 2008. The figure is now 711. Believe it or not, there is an upside to more cases being diagnosed. Chlamydia is known as the ‘silent disease’, often undiagnosed and untreated, and responsible for 30% to 40% of female infertility.
“However, with data such as this and comments from young people I work with, one could make the conclusion that the first age of sexual intercourse is dropping faster than research is reporting,” says Liz. “And sex education is clearly not keeping up.”