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27-09-2011 | Gynaecology | Article

Unprotected sex high, contraceptive knowledge low in young people


World Contraception Day website

MedWire News: The results of a third multinational survey carried out to mark World Contraception Day (WCD) on 26th September 2011 suggest that unprotected sex has increased in adolescents and young adults since 2009.

The findings also indicate that in many countries there are still significant emotional, cultural, and educational barriers affecting young people's ability to obtain reliable information about sex and contraception.

"What the results show is that too many young people either lack good knowledge about sexual health, do not feel empowered enough to ask for contraception or have not learned the skills to negotiate contraceptive use with their partners to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted infections (STIs)," said Jennifer Woodside, from the International Planned Parenthood Federation non-governmental organization (NGO) based in London, UK.

She added: "What young people are telling us is that they are not receiving enough sex education or the wrong type of information about sex and sexuality. It should not come as a surprise then that the result is many young people having unprotected sex and that harmful myths continue to flourish in place of accurate information."

The survey was carried out between April and May 2011 by GFK Healthcare, sponsored by Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals. It included 5426 adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 years from 26 countries and is endorsed by 11 international NGOs including the Asian Pacific Council on Contraception, the European Society of Contraception and Public Health, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, and the United States Agency for International Development.

The authors of the survey report that the percentage of young people having unprotected sex with a new partner in France, the USA, and Great Britain has increased from 19%, 38%, and 36%, respectively, in 2009 to a corresponding 40%, 53%, and 43% in 2011. This translates to respective increases of 111%, 39%, and 19% in these countries between 2009 and 2011.

In addition, more than 50% of those surveyed in China, Estonia, Kenya, Norway, and Thailand said they had had unprotected sex with a new partner at least once.

Young people in Europe reported having less sex education in school, at 55%, than those in Latin America, Asia Pacific, and the USA, at 78%, 76%, and 74%, respectively.

A significant number of respondents in Asia Pacific (22%), Europe (20%), and Latin America (14%) also said that their schools did "not provide a comfortable environment for questions on sexuality and intimacy."

Regarding contraception and its availability, "being too embarrassed to ask a healthcare professional" was cited as the main reason for not being able to get hold of contraception for 42% of survey participants in Asia Pacific and 28% of those in Europe.

Knowledge about contraception was poor in some countries. For example, 36% of the respondents from Egypt believed that bathing or showering after sex is an effective form of contraception and 28% and 26% of young people surveyed in Thailand and India, respectively, believe that having sex during menstruation is an effective way of preventing pregnancy.

"No matter where you are in the world, barriers exist which prevent teenagers from receiving trustworthy information about sex and contraception, which is probably why myths and misconceptions remain so widespread even today," commented Denise Keller, a member of the WCD Youth Task Force in Singapore.

"When young people have access to contraceptive information and services, they can make choices that affect every aspect of their lives, which is why it's so important that accurate and unbiased information is easily available for young people to obtain - either online or via educational materials they can take home or carry around with them."

By Helen Albert

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