Results of the fifth National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health provides a picture of teenagers demonstrating similar sexual behaviours to those in previous surveys, with individuals generally acting responsibly and being mostly happy about the choices they make.
The survey has been carried out by La Trobe researchers at regular intervals since 1992 and is the most comprehensive of its kind into the sexual behaviour, attitudes and health of young people at secondary school.
It involved more than 2,000 students in years 10, 11 and 12 at Government, Catholic and Independent schools in all states and territories.
Report author, La Trobe University Emeritus Professor Anne Mitchell, said the new results were enlightening.
Sexual Health Survey 2014
'This survey presents a very clear picture of the sexual world of young people. It is a great resource for parents, schools and policy makers,' Professor Mitchell said.
'We can take heart from these results as they suggest that young people on the whole are feeling good about their decisions to have or not to have sex and most are acting responsibly.'
The results showed about 25 per cent of year 10 students, a third of year 11s and 50 per cent of year 12s reported having had sex.
For the first time, students were asked in detail about their social media use.
Findings show 'sexting' and sending explicit photos via smartphone is now a common part of teenage sexual behaviour and courtship.
54 per cent of surveyed students reported receiving a sexually explicit text message and 26 per cent reported sending a sexually explicit photo of themselves.
These percentages increase among the sexually active students, with 84 per cent saying they had received a sexually explicit text and 72 per cent saying they had sent one.
Half of this group said they had sent a nude or explicit photo or video of themselves and 70 per cent reported receiving one.
Professor Anne Mitchell cautioned against alarm over the rates of sexting but said that the statistics send a clear message to parents and policy makers.
'Technology is here to stay, with smartphones and social media used almost universally among our teenagers.
'Our survey clearly shows the major role social media has in the negotiation and development of sexual relationships.
'We cannot police and control every new avenue of social interaction, so good sexuality education must encourage young people to develop a personal ethic and to treat others with respect.
'This type of education is our best defence against young people coming to harm,' Professor Mitchell said.
Additional report findings
- 50% of young people expressed significant dissatisfaction with sex education at schools, citing irrelevance to their real experiences, lack of relationship advice and lack of discussion of same-sex issues as problems.
- 36% of students commonly asked their mother about sex, 41% asked a female friend.
- 86% of teenagers said the last time they'd had sex they'd used a condom if one was available.
- 23% of sexually active students had sex with three or more people in the past year.
- 25% of sexually active students reported an experience of unwanted sex of some kind.
- 50% of those who had not had intercourse felt good about this decision, with religion, culture and pressure from parents being less important than personal decision making.
- Overall low numbers reported frequent cyber bullying.
What: Launch: National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health Report
Who: La Trobe University Professor Anne Mitchell (report author) and sex education researcher Pam Blackman available for interview
When: 10am Sunday 4 May 2014
Where: La Trobe University Franklin Street Campus, 215 Franklin Street, Melbourne CBD
The full report is available for download here [PDF 488KB].
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