Sex - don't just do it, think it through says Health Promotion Agency
A new sexual health campaign targeting young people who are thinking about having sex for the first time or with a new partner has been developed by the Health Promotion Agency for Northern Ireland (HPA).
The 'Think it through' campaign is the first by the HPA to focus on a younger target group (17-24 year olds) and the first that is not specifically focusing on sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The campaign, which runs for two weeks from Monday 17 March, aims to raise awareness of sexual health issues, promote safer sex and empower young people to delay their first sexual experience.
Dr Brian Gaffney, Chief Executive of the HPA, said: "There are a lot of misconceptions about young people's sexual activity in Northern Ireland. Many young people are not in a sexual relationship and in fact, previous research has shown that almost two thirds of those under 17 haven't had sex. A large proportion of those who had sex before the age of 17 felt they had sex too early and at this age, sexual activity tended to be unplanned, with alcohol often a factor. One in four young men and one in three young women in Northern Ireland said they were drunk the first time they had sex and one in 10 young women felt pressurised into their first sexual experience."1
New qualitative research by the HPA with young people (aged 11-16 years) and the parents of young people shows that sexual health is not a key area of concern for either the young people or their parents. Although parents were concerned about their teenagers having sex, their main fears were around alcohol and drugs and they knew little about STIs. Some of the older groups (15 -16 year olds) pointed out a need for "real life" sex education and advice on sexual health. They felt they were not getting information on how to take the necessary precautions and maintain good health if sexually active.2
Dr Gaffney continued: "Young people need to think about the decisions they make, about whether or not sex is the right choice for them and whether it is safe for them, before embarking on a sexual relationship, regardless of whether it is for the first time or the first time with a new partner.
"We don't often talk openly about sexual health in our culture but if young people are to make informed decisions there needs to be more candid discussion around the issues. There are risks with sexual activity and we know that unintended pregnancies are an issue for 16-24 year olds, and that this age group is most at risk of chlamydia."
STIs are on the increase among young people in Northern Ireland. The most recent figures show that the highest rate of infection for uncomplicated gonorrhoea, uncomplicated chlamydia and genital warts is among 20-24 year olds and the highest rate of genital herpes infection is among women aged 20-24 years.3
Although Northern Ireland has a lower rate of pregnancies among women aged 18 and under than the rest of the UK, overall the UK has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Western Europe. 4 5
to the Editor:
The campaign will run from 17-30 March 2008 and includes radio advertisements and posters, which will be displayed in the washrooms of pubs and clubs, as well as at bus stops and on buses.
'Think it through' is the first step in a phased campaign to address key strategic priorities including promoting sexual health and wellbeing, raising awareness of sexual health issues - including HIV/AIDS, with particular focus on those most at risk - and tackling discrimination and stigma associated with HIV, STIs and sexual orientation.
For media enquiries contact:
The HPA Press Office on Tel: 028 9031 1611.
1 Schubotz D, Simpson A, Rolston B. Towards better sexual health: a survey of sexual attitudes and lifestyles of young people in Northern Ireland. Belfast: fpa, 2002.
2 Health Promotion Agency for Northern Ireland. Qualitative research with 11-16 year olds and parents of 11-16 year olds. October 2007. Unpublished.
3 Health Protection Agency and Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre (NI). HIV and STI surveillance in Northern Ireland: 2007.
4 Registrar General Annual Report, 2006. Available at http://www.nisra.gov.uk/demography/default.asp8.htm Accessed on 12 March 2008.
5 UNICEF. Fertility and contraceptive use: Age specific fertility rate (15-19 years) 2000-2005. Available at http://www.childinfo.org/eddb/fertility/dbadol.htm Accessed on 12 March 2008.