This week saw the launch of the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles. Reassuringly, efforts to persuade teenagers to have safe sex and to use health-screening services seem to be having a positive effect. Looks like that bloke who said “education, education, education” might have gotten something right after all. So, if you have a teenager, here’s ten things you need to know before they become sexually active.
1. Don’t jump the gun. Most young people still have sex after they reach the age of consent. Only about a third of 16 to 24-year-olds have sex before the age of 16 and that figure has not changed in the last ten years.
2. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland teenagers under 16 who have sex with each other are technically committing an offence, but prosecution is highly unlikely.
3. If you want to delay teenage sexual activity, keep your kids at school for as long as possible. Educational attainment is the most important predictor of when a person will start having sex. Receiving sex education at school lessons is also associated with a lower likelihood of unplanned pregnancy.
4. Its better to wait. One in five young men and nearly half of young women aged 16-24 wish they had waited longer to start having sex. They were twice as likely to say this if they were under 15 when they first had sex
5. An implant is the most hassle free form of contraception for young girls and it lasts for three years. Implants and contraceptive pills will prevent pregnancy, but they won’t protect against sexually transmitted infections so teenagers always need to use condoms too. In the previous NATSAL Study, about 80% of young people aged 16-24 said that they had used a condom when they first had sex.
5. The peak age for an STI in women is between 19 and 20 years, and in men between 20 and 23 years.
6. Sexual health screening is free, as are condoms, and there are walk in clinics specifically for teenagers at many hospitals. Evidence suggests that uptake amongst teenagers is good and the chlamydia screening and the HPV vaccination programs are working well.
7. The morning after pill should not be used as a form of contraception, but it is available free for teenagers from Brook Centres (for under 25s), young people’s services, family planning clinics, GPs (not in Jersey), NHS walk-in centres, most sexual health/GUM clinics, some accident and emergency departments and some pharmacies (not in Jersey)
8. Britain has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Western Europe, but most unplanned pregnancies actually happen in the 20 to 34-year-old age group
9. Shockingly, although, 16-19 year olds account for 7.5% of all pregnancies, only 21.2% of them were unplanned. This confirms that teenage pregnancy is not a result of lack of awareness, or education. It is often a conscious choice on the part of young women and one that is directly related to poverty of aspiration
10. One in ten women experiences non-volitional sex and eighteen year old girls are the most frequent demographic to suffer forced, coerced or non-consensual sex. All young women should be instilled with the confidence to say no to sex that they don’t want and in an ideal world, self-defence classes would be mandatory. All teenagers should avoid walking alone at night and they should always carry a cheap mobile phone with credit on it. Rape alarms, keyring torches and ‘drink detective’ rape drug testing sticks are available from Safe-Girl.
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