Studies launched on sexuality, contraception and unplanned pregnancy

In its publication today (20th) of two in-depth studies on sexuality, contraception and unplanned pregnancy the Crisis Pregnancy Agency has shown that sexually active young Irish adults have a strong tendency for sexual risk taking and poor levels of fertility knowledge. These according to the Agency’s Chairperson, Olive Braiden, are significant contributory factors in the scale and seriousness of crisis pregnancy in Ireland.

The Agency’s Irish Contraceptive and Crisis Pregnancy (ICCP) Study of the general population confirms that the vast majority of young people (aged 18 – 25) are sexually active. “The age of first sexual intercourse in Ireland is dropping – the majority of young people now have had their first sexual experience by the age of 18,” said Ms Braiden.

Ms Braiden highlighted the level of sexual risk taking by 18 – 25 year olds who, according to the ICCP survey, were less likely to consistently use contraception than other age groups. “The main reasons given for non-use in the last year, by younger people who did not want to become pregnant, was that sex was unplanned (58 percent) or to a lesser degree they were drinking alcohol or taking drugs (21 percent). The abortion rate for 20 to 24 year olds is higher than for any other age group”, she said.
While more generally attitudes to sex in Ireland are becoming more liberal it was of particular interest to the Agency that nearly one-quarter of participants felt that if a woman carries condoms, while not in a relationship, it gives the impression that she is ‘looking for sex’. “Fear of being labelled as promiscuous is leading Irish women to risk unplanned pregnancy rather than protect themselves,” according to Ms Braiden.

Further, while 95 percent claimed that accessing contraception was relatively easy the survey found that 14 percent of men and 9 percent of women had never obtained contraceptive supplies or advice at any time in their lives.

The Agency’s second research report ‘Understanding how sexually active women think about fertility, sex and motherhood’ reveals the poor level of knowledge among women about their fertility. The authors of the research described this as ‘profoundly worrying’. Nearly half of the younger women surveyed (18 – 25) could not identify when they are most fertile and therefore at risk of becoming pregnant. “It is of serious concern that so many recent school leavers do not know such basic biological facts about human reproduction. Those who are sexually active and not using contraception are at significant risk,” said the Agency’s Director, Sharon Foley.

“As in the ICCP study, women in this study also experienced negative reactions and social stigma when trying to obtain contraception. More practical barriers such as opening hours and cost were experienced when trying to obtain emergency contraception”, Ms Foley said.
According to the authors of the latter study sex education in Irish schools and by parents is “inadequate and too biological, too narrow and too late”. They went on to conclude that there was a need for a public health campaign that provided both positive messages and information on contraception and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) to young adults.

In response to this finding the Crisis Pregnancy Agency has developed a national awareness campaign on the message that consistent use of contraception is the best way to avoid a crisis pregnancy. The ‘Think Contraception’ campaign uses multiple media to convey its message to its target audience of 18 – 25 year olds. The campaign consists of television and cinema advertisements supplemented by advertising in clubs, restaurants and college campuses. It will run after the 9pm watershed on all main television stations? from September 20th.

Describing the campaign Ms Foley explained how the imagery in all the advertisements depicts scenes where opportunistic sex might take place and addresses all relationship types. The voice-overs in the television advertisements will target women with the line: “You have 350,000 million chances of getting pregnant after unprotected sex. It only takes one sperm. No matter where or when Think Contraception”. The campaign for men uses a message on the risk of contracting a STI and carries the following message: “If you think condoms are inconvenient – try Gonorrhoea. No matter where or when Think Contraception”.

“A website and leaflets accompany the campaign have been developed to provide clear and unbiased information on contraceptive choices and availability,” she concluded.

Key Statistics
Recent Statistics issued by the Department of Health in the UK suggest that the number of women giving Irish addresses at UK clinics has dropped slightly for two years running. In 2003, a total of 6,320 women gave Irish addresses at UK abortion clinics.

Up to 80% of abortions are to single women, with the highest abortion rate among 20 to 24 year olds. Approximately 20% of conceptions within this age group end in abortion. The number of births to teenagers in Ireland – 2,803 last year – has remained relatively stable over the last three decades. The rate of STI in Ireland is increasing annually the highest rate of STIs is among 20 – 29 year olds.