Teenagers’ use of sexual health services: perceived need, knowledge and ability to access

Teenagers’ use of sexual health services: perceived need, knowledge and

ability to access

A. Parkes, D. Wight, M. Henderson

MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, Glasgow,


Introduction: An individual teenager’s use of services may depend on

perceived need; on knowledge of sexual health and local services; and on ability

to access. This paper presents the first UK large-scale quantitative analysis of

these factors, comparing those who use services with those who do not.

Methods: 15/16 year olds were questioned about their use of sexual

health services in the SHARE trial of a school sex education programme in 25

schools in Lothian and Tayside, Scotland (N=5,747). Multilevel statistical

models examined the role of different factors in shaping patterns of service use.

Results: A third of teenagers had used a service, and use was strongly

related to sexual experience. In addition, some family influences and being a

school leaver were associated with service use, although we found no evidence

for class, ethnic or religious barriers to use. Proximity to specialist clinics

was linked with greater use, while low spending money and high parental

monitoring were associated with less use. Teenagers with better knowledge, who

rated their school sex education as effective, who were comfortable talking

about sex and who had discussed contraception with peers were more likely to

have used services. Differences in use related to sexual experience, knowledge,

feeling comfortable talking about sex and talking with peers helped to explain

gender differences in service uptake.

Conclusions: There is potential to influence service use through

better knowledge and confidence imparted through school sex education, and by

improving the links between services and schools.

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