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Survey on sexual activity among young people highlights need for awareness and education programmes

By March 22, 2002News

– Release date: 22 March 2002

The Irish Family Planning Association has said that the Lansdowne Marketing survey on sexual activism among young people in Ireland, published during last night's Primetime programme on RTE, points to a need for comprehensive education programmes in schools and communities covering attitudes to sex, issues around self-esteem, as well as information on the reproductive system, Sexually Transmitted Infections and contraception.

"This survey confirms what we already know about young people's attitudes and experience around sex. An unacceptably high level of young people are not receiving sex education in schools or at home, and those without such education are most likely to have sex at an earlier age," said Catherine Heaney, IFPA Assistant Chief Executive.

"This Government has been in office for almost five years and throughout that time the levels of Irish abortions and STIs has increased substantially. In the face of this, no comprehensive programme has been put in place to try and address these trends.

"In fact, the only initiative undertaken by this Government in the area of sexual health awareness was the Think Twice Campaign, but funding for this was ended in the autumn after only a year in operation. The campaign was aimed at education, informing and empowering 18-35 year-olds about relationships and sexuality."

The Irish Family Planning Association believes that substantial investment in a range of programmes is required to ensure more responsible attitudes and behaviour among the younger people.

Such programme should include:

School and Community-based Education Programmes
There is a need for a sexual and reproductive healthcare programme in schools and communities covering awareness of the reproductive system and sexual behaviour. In addition, information on avoiding unwanted pregnancy and contraception and their use should be covered.

The programme should address issues around low self-esteem, which is often a reason why young people feel compelled to engage in sex.

Extending such an education programme into communities would enable early school leavers to benefit. It would also provide parents with an opportunity to equip themselves with all of the information required to impart accurate advice on reproductive health and sexual activity to their children.

Non-judgmental information on contraception, sexual problems and crisis pregnancy
A huge information gap still exists about where people can access reliable information on reproductive and sexual health. Young people are often reluctant to approach their family doctor for emergency contraception, for instance, and women with a crisis pregnancy often make the journey to the UK for abortion without any prior counselling.

There is a need for the establishment of a National callsave/freephone and web-based sexual health and family planning service centre which is staffed by trained family planning nurses and operates at least 6 days per week.

Free Access to sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning.
The cost of a doctor's appointment and contraception can be a real issue for young people on low incomes.

Free access to sexual and reproductive health services for the 18-25 year old age group would increase the take up of contraception and provide opportunities for doctors to discuss the implications of casual and unprotected sex with young clients. Free access would provide choice to young people about the doctor or family planning service they can access.

High Profile media advertising.
There should be sustained investment in a high-profile publicity campaign during 'peak periods' of sexually activism, such as bank holiday weekends and Christmas. Such a campaign should highlight the risk of contracting a Sexually Transmitted Infection.

Advertising should urge people to think twice before having casual sex and also to use a condom during sex.