Helpful Facts & Figures on Teenage Sexuality

These key findings and facts are taken from our research about teenage relationships, sexuality and sexual behaviour.  This information may be useful in helping to open up conversations around the topic of relationships and sexual health or they may help with a school, community or Young Social Innovators project related to sexual health and relationships.


  • Some young people engaged in sexual practices not because they had decided that it was the right thing for them to do or because they were ready but because they found themselves in a situation where they felt under pressure to act in a particular way – to fit in with their friends, to appear grown-up or experienced, or to please a partner – or because they did not know how to say ‘no’.
  • Some boys felt unable to ask for advice or information as they felt they have to appear macho and ready for sex at all times.
  • Young women were expected to have a good reputation; at the same time they sometimes felt under pressure to lose their virginity.


  • The majority of young people waited until they were 17 years or older before they had sex for the first time. A significant minority – 37% of men and 26% of women aged between 18 and 25 – had sexual intercourse before the legal age of 17.
  • The age of consent for both boys and girls to have sex is 17 in Ireland.  Many young people are not aware of this.


  • Most young people have had some sexual experience in their teens; many young people in the research studies said they had experienced non-penetrative sexual activities, such as mutual masturbation or oral sex.
  • Most young people were over 17 and in a steady relationship when they had first sex. For many young people intercourse was unplanned and often unexpected.
  • Those who had sex before 17 years were less likely to say that they were in love or  that sex was a natural follow-on in the relationship and they were more likely to say that they wished they had waited until they were older.
  • Those who had sex before 17 years were also more likely to experience negative health consequences – they were:

–         Less likely to have used contraception at first intercourse

–         70% more likely to experience crisis pregnancy later in life

–         3 times more likely to experience abortion in their lifetime

–         3 times more likely to report having a sexually transmitted infection (STI) in their lifetime.


  • Young people generally understand the safer-sex message. The proportion of young people that used contraception every time they had sex was up from 76% in a 2003 study to 79% in 2010.
  • Some of the reasons why contraception were not used were:

–         Not planning to have sex

–         Difficulty / embarrassment in getting contraception, or the expense involved.

–         Worries about using condoms correctly in the heat of the moment or a dislike of condoms

–         Being drunk or having taken drugs

–         Feeling  ‘invulnerable’ to pregnancy

–         Not thinking to use contraception.

  • Young people often found it hard to speak about using contraception, either before or during an intimate encounter.
  • Young women feared that buying or carrying condoms would give them a ‘bad’ reputation.
  • Young people were less concerned about STIs if they felt they ‘knew’ the other person; they trusted the other person not to have an STI.


  • In 2011, there were 1720 births to teenagers aged 15-19.  The number of births to teenagers has declined in recent years.  In 2001 there were 3,087 births to teenagers.  This is a 44% decrease over the last ten years.
  • Avoiding pregnancy is the main reason given by young people for using contraception; many young people didn’t feel at risk from STIs.
  • Health Protection Surveillance Centre data reveals that STIs are on the increase in Ireland, especially among the young: the proportion of all STI notifications among those aged less than 20 years increased to 12.7% in 2010 from 10.3% in 2008 and 10% in 2007.


  • Unlike some other European countries, open communication about relationships and sexuality is not commonplace in Irish society.
  • Many young people in Ireland rely on their friends or the media (TV programmes, problem pages in magazines/newspapers, internet sites) to inform themselves about relationships, sexuality and sexual health, though they acknowledge that they information they get is not complete or trustworthy.
  • Discussing the moral, social and emotional issues around intimate relationships and sex with people they trust, such as their parents or their teachers, gives young people a more realistic and balanced perspective on intimate relationships, sexuality and sexual behaviour and allows them to make healthy, responsible decisions about relationships and sex in their own lives.
  • Young people aged 14-15 said that as well as more Relationships and Sexuality Education in school, they would like to get the perspectives of young people a few years older than themselves on these matters, (i.e. 16/17 year olds) as they felt this group would have an understanding of the pressures that they are experiencing and would be well placed to give advice on how to deal with these pressures.
  • There is a requirement that Relationships & Sexuality Education (RSE) be taught in each of the three years of Junior Cycle, with approximately six periods per year devoted to RSE.  There is also a requirement that RSE be taught up to Senior Cycle, even though the SPHE curriculum for Senior Cycle has not yet been implemented.

 Possible Topics For Discussion

  • Where do young people in our school get information on relationships and sexuality?
  • Are young people’s attitudes to relationships influenced by TV programmes, films and celebrity magazines? What can be done to decrease the effect of these influences among the young people in our school?
  • Does wanting to fit in or be like everyone else influence decisions about sex and relationships? How can people resist peer pressure?
  • What can be done to encourage discussion of issues related to relationships and sexuality in our school and at home?
  • What can we do in our school to ensure that all young people make healthy, responsible decisions about relationships and sex and do not engage in sex at an early age?
  • If a young person in our school has had sex and wants to talk to someone about it privately, where can they go?
  • How can we ensure that young people in our school are aware of STI clinics and crisis pregnancy counselling services in the locality?
  • How can sexual health of young people in our community be improved? 


  • has lots of information on relationships and sexual health that young people can trust. It was developed by the HSE Sexual Health & Crisis Pregnancy Programme, in partnership with the Department of Education and Skills, HSE Health Promotion, the National Youth Council of Ireland and Parentline. 150 young people were consulted during development.   It has video clips of young people talking about friendships and relationships.  It also has a number of quizzes and polls and well as real life stories from teenagers who had an unplanned pregnancy or who had to visit an STI clinic.
  • The website is also useful for parents, as a way of beginning discussions with their teenaged child about relationships, sexuality and sexual health.  It includes information on the topics covered in the RSE programme.
  • The website is also suitable for use by the RSE teacher, and a set of lesson plans, which are both in line with the RSE curriculum are available free of charge to all teachers and schools on


There are a number of STI clinics around the country, though many young people are not aware of these services. gives  a list of STI clinics around the country. has a number of real life stories of teenage pregnancy and experiences of attending an STI clinic.  Go to and click on “The Facts”.


There are a number of crisis pregnancy counselling services around the country.  All of these services are free of charge.  For a list of these services, visit


The Real Deal is a programme delivered as part of an RSE class by one-time teenage mothers.  It covers their experience of being a teenage mother, peer pressure, contraception and STIs.  For more information visit


To order leaflets, DVDs or booklets, please visit You can order materials directly from this website and they will be delivered free of charge within 5 workings days. To order large quantities you will need to register as a ‘health professional’.

For more information, visit or contact the HSE Sexual Health & Crisis Pregnancy Programme on 01 814 62 92 or email

To sign up to our e-newsletter, please visit or email

The HSE Sexual Health & Crisis Pregnancy Programme is responsible for developing and implementing a strategy to address the issue of crisis pregnancy in Ireland.  One of the key priorities of the Programme is improving knowledge about relationships and sexuality for adolescents through home, school and community based education. 



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