Learning about contraception: teenagers talk about the utility of school sex education and other information sources

Learning about contraception: teenagers talk about the utility of school

sex education and other information sources

K. Buston, D. Wight

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

Introduction: The correct use of contraceptives is key to preventing

unwanted pregnancies amongst young women. In recent years school sex education

has improved, partly in response to this. Notably, skills-based sessions

focusing on condom use have become more commonplace. SHARE commenced in 1996 and

is an ongoing multi-method study investigating the sexual behaviour of young

people. A wealth of data has been collected, including information that can shed

light on where young people learn about contraception and whether, and how, this

impacts on their contraceptive use.

Aims and methods: This paper analyses data collected during in-depth

interviews (n=65) and group discussions (n=16) with male and female pupils from

six schools in the east of Scotland. Framework analysis has been employed in

order to summarise the data and provide explanations.

Results: Information on contraceptives was one of the most commonly

cited highlights of school sex education for both the young men and young women.

A high number of those who had received condom skills instruction valued this,

though more young men than young women talked about having changed, or intending

to change, their behaviour based on what they had learnt. Many of the young

women criticised school for failing to provide details regarding contraceptive

use (for example saying that lessons were effective in providing information on

what emergency contraception was and how it could be used, but not on where in

the local area it could be obtained and how, precisely, one could get it).

Non-school sources that young women cited as important in influencing their

contraceptive behaviour included information from female relatives or older

peers, and discovering that a friend was pregnant. While parents were generally

a much less important source of information on sex for the young men than for

the young women, a significant minority of young men had received advice from

their mother and/or father about using a condom to avoid pregnancy in a partner.

Several described how a parent had offered to get condoms for them, or had

passed condoms to them. This often proved influential in getting young men to

always use a condom.

Conclusions: The utility of school sex education for imparting

knowledge and, perhaps more importantly, skills should not be dismissed or

underestimated. The potential for parents to influence their son’s condom use

should be explored further.

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