A number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are becoming more prevalent in Australia, and young people are among those at highest risk. Sexual health education and social marketing programs can increase knowledge of STIs, but knowledge alone does not always translate into safer sexual practice.
This Snapshot offers a brief overview of current knowledge about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among young Australians and outlines the role of education and social marketing in reducing the prevalence of STIs.
First, some statistics...
Approximately one-quarter of Year 10, a third of Year 11 and half of Year 12 students had ever had sexual intercourse.
In an article published in 2010, Associate Professor Juliette Goldman of Griffith University observed that the age range within which first sexual intercourse is likely to occur has not altered appreciably for some time, falling between 15 and 19 years in most parts of the world.
In terms of sexual health, it is important to know whether sexually active young people employ safe sex practices.
The 2013 Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society survey of high school students in Years 10, 11 and 12 found only 43.4 per cent of sexually active respondents reported always using a condom when they had sex the previous year, whereas 39 per cent reported using condoms sometimes, and 13 per cent reported never using them. In this survey, sexually active young women were less likely than sexually active young men to have used a condom the previous year.
To understand how to increase safe practices and make a difference to the sexual health of young people, we need to understand the reasons young people may not always practice safe sex.
Current study shows that providing information to young people on sexual health isn't enough. Here are some issues to keep in mind when developing services and programs.
ARCSHS research indicates that young people consider sexual education programs in schools and the teachers of these programs to be important sources of trusted information.
A national survey of sex education teachers conducted in 2010 revealed that the majority believed programs were effective in passing on knowledge but less successful in reducing risk-taking behaviour.
Knowing what is an help young people tackle the sometimes tricky problem of discussing safe sex, as well as being better equipped to make decisions.
in Australia and overseas, peer-led sexual health education has received a great deal of attention in recent years. However, it is not yet clear that it leads to less risky sexual behaviour.
There is evidence that good-quality counselling can be a cost-effective way to change behaviour
Multifaceted and integrated sexual health education with a strong emphasis on healthy and respectful relationships is critical to addressing some of the underlying misconceptions among young people and adults they come in contact with that are contributing to unsafe sexual practices.
Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet
Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society, La Trobe University
Centre for Social Research in Health, University of New South Wales
Get the facts, Western Australia Government
Kids Help Line
1800 55 1800
Kirby Institute for Infection and Immunity in Society, University of New South Wales
Let them know (for help telling sexual partners who may be at risk)
Melbourne Sexual Health Centre
Multicultural Health Communication, New South Wales Government
Queensland sexual health clinics, Queensland Government
Safe Sex. No Regrets, Northern Territory Government
Sexual Health and Family Planning Australia
Sexual Health Information, Networking and Education SA
Sexual Health Plus, New South Wales Government
STIs are spreading fast: Always use a condom, Australian Government
Talk Soon. Talk Often, Tasmanian Government
Talk Soon. Talk Often, Western Australian Government
Tasmanian Council on AIDS, Hepatitis and Related Diseases