This nationally representative study, the Irish Contraception and Crisis Pregnancy Survey, questioned 3002 people aged 18-45 years living in Ireland in 2010 on a range of topics including contraception, sex education, crisis pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The work was carried out by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI). The findings of this survey can be compared to the findings of the first Irish Contraception and Crisis Pregnancy survey, conducted in 2003 to chart changes in knowledge and sexual behaviour over a seven year period.
First sexual experiences
Findings show that young people are more likely to receive sex education now than in the past. Approximately 90% of 18-25 year olds said that they received sex education in school, compared with 80% of 26-35 year olds. The quality of the sex education they received has also increased with approximately 70% of 18-25 year olds saying that the sex education they received was helpful to them in their adult relationships, compared to 60% of 26-35 year olds.
The age of first sex has not decreased over the last 7 years. The median or average age remains 17 years for men and has increased slightly for women, to 18 years (from 17 years). 15% of 18-25 year olds surveyed had not had sex yet, compared to 13% in 2003. Adults who received sex education at home or in schools were 1.5 times more likely to use contraception the first time they had sex, when compared with those who had received sex education from other sources. This finding is significant as there has been a decline over the two surveys in the number of parents reporting that they have spoken to their child about sex and related matters, from 82% to 70%.
In general, consistent use of contraception among young people is high and increasing. Approximately 80% of 18-25 year olds now report that they use contraception every time they have sex. There has also been an increase from 4% to 12% in young people using more reliable methods of contraception such as the implant, injection, the contraceptive ring and the contraceptive patch.
Commenting on the findings, Professor Hannah McGee, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland said: “These are very positive findings, particularly at a time when teenagers and young people may feel increasingly pressurised to become sexually active. The findings are backed up by the year-on-year reductions in teenage births in Ireland and in the large reduction in the number of young women under age 20 travelling to the UK for abortion services. When young people become sexually active now, the evidence suggests that they are more likely to use contraception – progress is being made. “
Approximately one in three women living in Ireland in 2010 who have ever been pregnant have experienced a crisis pregnancy. This is similar to the 2009 Pregnancy at Work survey, which found that one in three women who had given birth between July 2007 and June 2009 had defined that pregnancy as a crisis.
While the pregnancy rate for women under 25 has remained relatively stable over the last 10 years, a higher proportion of these women are defining their pregnancies as crisis pregnancies in the 2010 survey, compared to the 2003 survey. In the 2003 survey, 52% of young women who had been pregnant said that their pregnancy was a crisis pregnancy. In the 2010 survey it had increased to 66%.
Dr O’Keeffe said: “Crisis Pregnancy is still an issue for women living in Ireland, although for perhaps different reasons than it was in the past. The primary reason why a woman defines a pregnancy as a crisis is because the pregnancy is not planned – this remained stable across both surveys. More young women in the 2010 survey reported that they viewed their pregnancy as a crisis because they were “too young”, even though the majority of these pregnancies were occurring to women in their mid-twenties. This may be indicative of cultural changes regarding the most desirable age to have a baby. The average age of first-time mothers has increased in recent years – it is now 31 years. While women are less likely nowadays to define a pregnancy as a crisis because they are not married, the proportion of women reporting that the pregnancy was a crisis for financial reasons has increased from 2% in 2003 to 9% in 2010, which is reflective of the current economic climate.”
This current study shows an increase over time in the number of adults reporting that they had been screened and/or diagnosed with HIV or an STI. Overall, 36% of adults reported that they had been tested for HIV in their lifetime and 14% of those screened reporting a positive diagnosis. Dr. Kevin Kelleher, HSE Assistant National Director for Health Protection commented: “Recent increases in STI diagnosis can be partly attributed to increases in the levels of screening, but data from this report demonstrates that we cannot be complacent. It is critical that sexually active adults take responsibility for their sexual health, use condoms to reduce STI transmission and attend for regular STI screening.”
Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, 123 St Stephens Green, Dublin 2, Ireland. Tel: +353 1 402 2100