Study examines teenagers and their sexual health

Study examines teenagers and their sexual health

04 Aug 2009

VIDEO CLIP: La Trobe University & the Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) launched The Fourth National Survey of Australian Secondary School Students and Sexual Health on Tuesday 4 August.

Presentation: 'Secondary School Students and Sexual Health 2008'

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Australian teenagers get a B for overall knowledge about sexual health

*    B for overall knowledge
*    B+ for HIV knowledge
*    B- for sexual behaviour knowledge
*    C for knowledge about sexually transmissible disease
*    C- for alcohol use and link with unwanted sex

Australia’s teenagers get B for their overall knowledge of sexual health in a La Trobe University survey.

Professor Anthony Smith, Deputy Director of Australian Research Centre for Sex Health and Society (ARCSHS), which conducted the survey says:  ‘They are not doing badly but there is still room for improvement.’

He is concerned about some of the emerging trends and changes in data from many aspects of the fourth National Survey of Secondary Students and Sexual Health.

‘Youth cultures are diversifying, we are not seeing broad general trends but changes that are gender and year level specific and this must be monitored.’

‘Mum still knows best when it comes to giving information and advice, as well as  female friends, the internet but there is huge provision for youth-friendly health services to fill a vital gap in information.’ 

The research team surveyed around 3,000 year 10 and 12 students from Catholic, Independent and Government schools about sex in a bid to glean more about their sexual behaviour and knowledge of sexual health.

The report card scores knowledge of HIV at a B+, the highest rate of all the scores but warns that HIV knowledge is declining slightly.

On the upside, knowledge about sexually transmissible infections and hepatitis is improving, although a majority of those surveyed believe it is possible to be vaccinated against hepatitis C.

Sexual behaviour receives a B-, with more young people being sexually active and with a rise in number of young people having sex with three or more partners.

Around one in three year 10 students and just nearly 60 per cent of year 12 students report having had oral sex. One quarter of students in year 10 report sexual intercourse, and around half of those in year 12. Rates for young men have remained stable or fallen slightly, while for young women, rates have increased particularly among year 12 girls, rising from 46% to 61%.

It also appears that students are having sex with more partners.

Alcohol use is of major concern to the researchers, with more young people are drinking at levels that expose them to a range of short-term risks as well as some longer-term risks.

Today’s teenagers receive C- for their knowledge of the link between alcohol and drug use and sexual behaviour. This sits beside the significant minority of young people who had ever had sex when they did not want to.

In relation to this, Professor Smith said that two things stood out of the survey, particularly for young women.

‘Pressure from their partner to have sex identified by nearly one in four young women as a reason for ever having had unwanted sex and being too drunk at the time identified by nearly one in five.’

The 2008 survey included all the questions asked in previous surveys in order to draw conclusions about how young people are changing over time.

‘Some concerns persist over time, for example  the place and meaning of oral sex for young people and the lack of knowledge about the human papillomavirus (HPV) – despite the major vaccination campaign against HPV,’ said Professor Smith.

Key facts at a glance

*    Fourth Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health survey
o    1992 – driving force of the survey was knowledge of HIV, condom use and sex behaviour;
o    1997 - focus shifted to include sexual health and blood borne viruses, especially hepatitis C; survey also included question about same sex attracted young people;
o    2002 – survey included questions on oral sex, contraception and topics extended to include pregnancy;
o    Current – for the first time questions are included about the knowledge of human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer; concerns remain about the place and meaning of oral sex for young people, all other questions remain.

Main themes are:

*    Young people’s sexual behaviour               
*    condom use
*    apparent increase in sexual partner numbers.
*    alcohol and drug use and unwanted sexual activity.
Students interviewed
*    2002 - 2388 students from 110 schools (Catholic, Independent and State)
*    2008 - 2926 students from 105 schools (Catholic, Independent and State)

Main factors from the survey:

*    HIV knowledge remains good
*    STI knowledge is improving
*    HPV knowledge is very poor
*    Youth cultures are diversifying. Contrary to previous surveys we are not   seeing broad general trends but changes that are gender and year level specific.
*    Proportion of sexually active young people is increasing due largely to the activity of young women in Year 12
*    Little change in proportion of young people engaging in oral sex
*    Among those engaging in sexual intercourse there have been substantial increases in the proportion reporting three or more partners.
*    Less marked increases are observed in the proportion of young people reporting oral sex with three or more people in the last year with whom they are not having intercourse
*    Condom use remains high                           
*    There are increases in unwanted sex for young women
*    Pressure from partners and being too drunk are the most commonly offered reasons for unwanted sex
*    The number of non-drinkers is generally increasing
*    The number of young people binging on three or more occasions in the previous two weeks is increasing, particularly in year 12 and among young women
*    Young people generally rate their health as good or better

Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society

La Trobe University’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge in sexual health research and education. ARCSHS consists of a multi-disciplinary research team also focussed on the education of post graduate students.

ARCSHS has conducted research for the World Health Organization, UNICEF, UNAIDS, Family Health International, the Ford Foundation, AusAID, and numerous other agencies. The Centre won the Victorian Public Health Awards for Research Excellence in 1997, 1999 and 2001.

To organise an interview with Anne Mitchell or Professor Anthony Smith, or for any other media enquires, please contact:

Anne Mitchell,
Australian Research Centre of Sex Health and Society
03 9285 5124, 0412 513 665

Professor Anthony Smith
, Australian Research Centre of Sex Health and Society
0402 831 041

Mikhaela Delahunty, Media & Communications Officer
03 9479 5353
0411 268 946




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