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High school students are having less sex

Monday 4th July 2016

This is the news every parent of a teenager wants to hear.


Photo: 123RF

Young people in New Zealand seem to be waiting until they’re older to have sex.

That’s according to a national youth health study by the University of Auckland’s Adolescent Health Research Group published this week in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

But what some parents may be less happy to learn is the study also found those teens who are having sex are less prepared and less likely to access sexual health services.

Researchers investigating changes in sexual health behaviour of NZ secondary school students of ran surveys in 2001, 2007 and 2012 involving a total of 27,000 teenagers.

About 9000 students between year nine and year 13 took part in each survey - in which students were asked to disclose their sexual activity with questions such as: “How old were you when you had your first experience of sex?”; “In the last three months how many sexual partners have you had?”; and “How often do you and your partner use condoms as protection?”

The numbers showed that in 2001, 31.3 percent of all the students said they had ever had sex compared to 36.3 percent in 2007 and 24.4 percent in 2012. Over a decade there was a change of 6.9 percent.

Researcher Dr Jade Le Grice said in 2012 students were more likely to delay sexual activity, but it was not clear if the decrease was due to more education around sexual health and access to services.

“It is a global trend, I would love to say this could be a signal in that there’s some gains in young people taking responsibility [In regards to sexual activity]. Obviously, there’s not any clear evidence,” Dr Le Grice said.


The research group’s study leader, Terryann Clark, said students in 2012 who were sexually active, were less likely to use condoms and contraception consistently, compared to students in 2001.

The study results also revealed Māori, Pacific and socioeconomically deprived students were less likely to use condoms and have access to contraception than New Zealand European students and students from wealthier neighbourhoods.

“Declining contraceptive use over an 11-year period suggests that current strategies are inadequate, particularly for Māori, Pacific and socioeconomically deprived students,” Dr Clark said.

“Appropriate and accessible sexual and reproductive health services and comprehensive sexuality education are urgently required.”


Dr Le Grice agreed that accessible sexual health education was needed across the board for young people.

Last year, the Ministry of Education released an updated guide for schools on teaching sexuality which addresses issues of consent, coercion, and cultural differences.

A doctor at the 298 Youth Health Centre in Christchurch, Sue Bagshaw said schools had started to discover the value of good education around sex and relationships.

“Schools are catching on to the fact that maybe it’s as much about good relationships and a good environment as it is about getting NCEA results.”

“But there are a still a whole load of schools who don’t teach sex ed well,” Dr Bagshaw said.

She said while seven percent was not a significant decrease, she was glad that young people had started to realise they didn’t need to have sex at an early age.

But Dr Bagshaw said much more could still be done to better educate youth, particularly around practicing safe sex.

Family planning’s national medical advisor, Christine Roke, said part of the problem was access to services.

She said transport, money and time meant some people wouldn't go to a clinic and get condoms or get a prescription for the pill, which contributed to unprotected sex rates.

Dr Le Grice said although the last survey was in 2012, she believed the data painted gave a good insight into how young people were engaging in sexual activity over the last few years.

“It’s the best we’ve got. It is quite a powerful indicator of how things are.”

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