Knowledge is power for sexual health of young South Australians

04 Oct 2019
Knowledge is power for sexual health of young South Australians

A South Australian-first youth sexual health survey has provided a unique snapshot of the sexual behaviours and knowledge of the state’s young people. 

The head of SAHMRI’s Sexual Health and Wellbeing program, Associate Professor James Ward, says the results will help design policies, health services and education programs aimed at reducing sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV and viral hepatitis (BBVs). 

“STI rates are increasing across Australia and young people are particularly vulnerable, so we wanted to gauge where South Australians sit in relation to the rest of the country,” Associate Professor Ward said. 

“The results are a mixed bag. There are some areas where we are confident young people are in control of their sexual health and other areas where we need to do better.” 

Associate Professor Ward says young people’s use of condoms and accessing of testing services were areas of concern. 

“Only 36 per cent of respondents said they always used a condom with a casual partner during the previous 12 months,” he said. 

“That’s an important finding because we know condoms are the most effective protection against STIs and an important form of contraception. 

“Because STIs don’t have obvious symptoms it’s important that sexually active young people get tested at least once a year but of our survey respondents only half said they’ve ever been tested for an STI.” 

Despite this, participants demonstrated reasonable knowledge about STIs and BBVs with approximately 75 per cent of participants answering at least six out of 10 related questions correctly. 

Around 45 per cent of participants reported acquiring their knowledge from the internet, 20 per cent said it came from their doctors and 20 per cent nominated schools or other educational institutions. 

The survey also found high levels of risky drinking with 40 per cent saying they consumed more than four alcoholic drinks on a single occasion. 

“This is similar to figures nationally but it shows much more can be done to promote responsible drinking in this age group,” Associate Professor Ward said. 

Other drug use was also comparable to the rest of Australia. 

When it came to sexual identity the South Australian survey echoed the diversity found nationally with 72 per cent of people identifying as heterosexual while twenty-four per cent of females and eight per cent of males identified as bisexual. Six percent identified as gay or lesbian. 

More than 70 per cent reported having a regular partner and one third said they used the internet or mobile dating apps to find partners. 

Almost 2400 South Australians aged between 16 and 29 took part in the online Let’s Talk About It survey during July and August this year. The survey canvassed a broad range of topics including knowledge, sexual behaviour, sexual and gender identity, relationships and drug and alcohol use. The average age of those completing the survey was 20. Ten percent of participants were Aboriginal. Around 60 per cent of participants were at school or university and roughly the same number lived with their parents. 

Associate Professor Ward says his team will repeat this survey annually to identify trends and evaluate the efficacy of measures to improve the sexual health of young South Australians.