Teens having sex younger, need better sex ed

Unprotected sex still an issue for teenagers

Teens are either not learning about sexually transmitted infections, or they are not listening. This is backed up by the growing number of cases of chlamydia in teenagers as quoted by Liz previously.

Of the sexually active students in 2008, half reported always using condoms when they had sex in the previous year, 43% reported they only used condoms sometimes, and 7% said they did not use condoms at all when they had sex in the previous year. Students in year 10 (57%) were more likely than those in year 12 (47%) to use a condom; and young men (61%) were more likely than young women (46%) to always use condoms when they had sex in the previous year.

“The disparity between young women and young men using a condom is concerning,” says Liz. “Young women are not getting the message that they are at increased biological risk for contracting an STI. The cervix of young females is more vulnerable to certain STIs than older females.”

Around half of year 10 students report having had oral sex, but there are no figures on condom use for this activity. Oral sex can transmit gonorrhoea, genital warts and genital herpes.

The case for increasing sexual health education

The trend in teens having sex younger, thus exposing them to a higher risk of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, is being used to argue for an earlier start to sex education, and a broadening of topics.

According to the 2008 La Trobe University report, most sexuality teaching took place in years 9 and 10 of secondary school, with the exception of puberty, reproduction and body image, which were covered earlier. Hardly any sexuality education took place in years 11 and 12, when it could be used to consolidate lessons or explore more complex themes.

“An increase in sexual health education for young people is absolutely essential, particularly from a whole person approach,” says Liz, who believes teenagers are unprepared for the emotional impact of being sexually active. To illustrate her point, Liz offers this recent comment from a 15-year-old participant in one of her sessions:

“After you’ve done it, you realise how much it affects you emotionally. Someone should [have told us this] before we did it. Someone should tell younger kids before they do it because they think that it’s just sex, but it’s more than that.”

The NSW Commissioner for Children and Young People Megan Mitchell is confident increasing sexual health education will help protect teenagers.

“We know that properly targeted public health messages and sex education in schools can be effective,” she says. “Just look at the results of measures to reduce smoking and alcohol consumption among children. Since 1984, the proportion of children aged 12 to 17 years who smoke has fallen from 27% to 9%. The proportion who reported having drunk alcohol in the last 12 months also fell, from 72% to 56%.”

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