RESEARCH into social behaviour of today’s teenagers towards safe-sex strategies and their application in real life may prove essential for much needed better sexual health campaigns and education.
Adverse consequences of adolescent engagement in sexual activities contribute to WA’s ongoing rise in sexually transmitted infections (STI) and teenage pregnancy rates, which are among the highest in developed countries.
Dr Lewis Marshall, Sexual Health Physician at Fremantle Hospital says “we should use research and surveys to improve what we do; there is an opportunity to do better”.
Conduct analysis of teenagers, most at risk of impulsive and therefore unprepared sex, may tease out the nuances that are important for new health messages to those that currently need it most.
In the case of condom use, recent socio-behavioural studies in Australia and abroad show that attitudes and motives for sex differ among people, no matter how young they are.
A Dutch study in the latest issue of Sexual Health addressed condom-buying behaviour among students. It revealed that condom placement in shops, embarrassment associated with purchasing them and the motive to do so undermines any health message based on a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model.
Dr Marshall and colleagues in Perth and Sydney recently published observations of young male behaviour towards condom use as a contraceptive or barrier to STI in the international journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour.
The outcomes support the notion among professionals that safe sex choices made by young people are not autonomous decisions of those involved.
Men play a key role in agreeing on condom use and their reasons vary from risk avoidance to rationally choosing against them for enhanced sensuality.
“Also access to condoms, particularly for young people, is difficult. It is another issue we try to address but don’t do very well”, says Dr Marshall.
The latest stats come from the 2009 National Survey of 3000 Australian upper high school children: more than half have sex at that age and there is more partner change and unwanted sex than reported previously. Meanwhile, knowledge remains poor.
It reiterates the call for better, possibly different sex education at a time when sexualisation in our society seems perceived as acceptable by teenagers. “The potential gain from a shift towards a broader framework of adolescent decision-making can be huge”, says Dr Marshall.
“Emphasis on self worth and resilience to peer pressure may be more sellable [than conventional sex education] to parents to take responsibility for and schools to build on within the curriculum”.