Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Irish Times: Let's Talk About Sex


Tue, Mar 23, 2010

A new study into young people’s attitudes to sex makes interesting reading

MOST TEENAGERS lose their virginity between the ages of 16 and 17, according to new research on young people’s attitudes to sexual health.

However, the 18-20 year olds surveyed said they believed a greater number of 14 and 15 year olds were having sex now, compared with five years ago.

The Voice of Young People – A Report on Attitudes to Sexual Health found that most parents did not want their children to have sex before they reached 18 years.

While the majority of teenagers interviewed said they first had sex at 16 or 17, a minority said they had lost their virginity at 15.

The report said it could be assumed that many teenagers engaged in other forms of sexual activity before they had sexual intercourse.

The perception that teenagers were having sex at a younger age was common, the report found. Teenagers pointed to the pregnancy of younger children at school and discussions with younger siblings and their friends to support this theory.

The study highlighted the denial practised by some parents who said their children’s friends were having sex but their own children weren’t.

“In the main, parents reported that they would be able to determine if their own child was sexually active,” the report said.

Most of the 18-20 year olds interviewed said they had had more than one sexual relationship and many acknowledged having one-night stands.

“It’s not that you go out intending to sleep with someone, but sometimes you can’t help yourself,” explained one 19-year-old Dublin woman.

The research involved about 120 young people aged 18-20 years in Dublin, Galway and Cork as well as four focus groups of parents whose children were aged 14-16 years. It was conducted by Drury Research for the Pfizer Way2Go health programme.

The report also found that young women were more likely to have casual sex with an associate or friend who they knew, whereas men were more likely to have a one-night stand with someone they had never met.

It also highlighted the double standards practised when it came to condom-carrying. Both young men and women agreed that it should be acceptable for men and women to carry condoms on a night out.

However, men said if they saw a girl carrying a condom, it would indicate that she was “seeking sex” and was “easy”. This view was reflected by the young women interviewed, with only a small minority saying they carried condoms.

Despite the introduction of the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme in schools, the study found that children still learned about sex outside the classroom, mainly from friends and older siblings.

Most young people surveyed were critical of the sex education offered in schools, saying it was often “too little, too late”.

Teachers spent too little time on the subject and very few teachers appeared to be adequately trained for it, they said.

Specific information on contraception and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) was often given after the junior cycle but should be offered in first and second year.

They all spoke of the embarrassment of having “The Talk” with parents, and most teenagers said their parents never referred to sexually transmitted infections.

“In particular, when the subject of contraception was addressed during the course of such discussions, it was almost always in the context of avoiding a crisis pregnancy.”

The parents interviewed also spoke of the difficulty in talking about sex to their children. They said they were worried that they would begin a discussion before the child was ready for it.

“The primary fear for parents appears to be that they might shock their child or ‘steal their innocence’, something they are very mindful to protect,” the report said.

Most parents agreed that they did not raise the topic of STIs and many did not discuss contraception.

“A significant number of parents appear uncomfortable with raising the subject and acknowledged being somewhat embarrassed to do so.

“Furthermore, many parents reported a concern that by engaging in such ‘overt’ sexual discussions they may in fact send the wrong message to their children that they are condoning or even encouraging sexual activity.”


“I remember they showed us pictures of the different STIs and it was disgusting but it was only one class and you kind of forget all about it – 19-YEAR-OLD FEMALE


“We were taught by a teacher who we had for another subject. So it was real awkward. Everything was rushed. They wanted to get it out of the way as quickly as possible” – 19-YEAR-OLD FEMALE


“It would nearly be easier to say you’re pregnant. You would have your family supporting you – 18-YEAR-OLD FEMALE


““I really don’t know much about the different STIs, so I don’t think I could tell my daughter anything. “In fact, I’m sure that already she knows much more than me.” – A MOTHER

“I think you know by your child. My girl has a boyfriend but she is not streetwise. I would know if she was [having sex]. She’s very innocent.” – A FATHER

“I don’t feel there’s a need for me to get into the birds and the bees. They’re taught that in school.” – A FATHER

SOURCE: The Voice of Young People – A Report on Attitudes to Sexual Health, commissioned by Pfizer Healthcare

© 2010 The Irish Times