Teenagers feel under pressure to have sex

Tue, Dec 15, 2009, 00:00

ALMOST ONE-THIRD of teenage girls and 8 per cent of boys have come under pressure to start having sex, according to research presented yesterday by the Crisis Pregnancy Agency (CPA).

Such “interpersonal coercion” is separate from more general pressure, such as slagging and ridicule, to which young people are subjected by their peers, according to Dr Abbey Hyde of UCD’s school of nursing.

Dr Hyde was speaking at the launch of a new initiative by the CPA to encourage young people to wait longer before having sex. While the campaign aims to provide non-judgmental information for teenagers and their parents, it also highlights some of the negative aspects of early sexual experience.

Research carried out by the agency has found that young people who engage in sex before the age of consent – 17 years – are more likely to experience crisis pregnancy, to have an abortion and to contract a sexually-transmitted disease.

“Young people who had sex at an early age were also more likely to express regret – to say that they wished they waited longer,” said Prof Hannah McGee of the Royal College of Surgeons at the launch.

Teenage sexual activity was highly culturally influenced, she said, and “myths” of early sexual experience abounded. In fact, the majority of Irish young people wait until they are 17 or over to have sex. Less than one-third of young adult men (18-24 year olds) and 22 per cent of young women say they had sex before the age of 17.

Responding to the research findings, the CPA has developed the “b4udecide” campaign, comprising a website and other materials, to encourage teenagers to make informed decisions about relationships and sex.

Young people often feel that school and teachers do not tell them what they need to know about relationships and safe sex, according to the research. Some said they received no sex education in school or claimed what they were taught was “too biological”.

Teenagers often refuse to discuss sexual matters with their parents and some parents avoid the subject . The research found that only one-fifth of men and one-third of women, aged 18 to 24, had received sex education in the home.

More than 20 per cent of young people reported having taken drink or drugs when they first had sex.

Almost 31 per cent of the teenage girls answered yes to the question, “Have you ever felt under any pressure to have full sex?” while the corresponding figure for boys was 8.1 per cent. It is not known how many either succumbed or resisted such pressure.

The website, www.b4udecide.ie, features quizzes, polls and video interviews with young people on forming healthy relationships, dealing with peer pressure and reasons why it is better to wait to have sex.

Caroline Spillane, director of the CPA, said young people experienced immense pressure from their peers, boyfriends and girlfriends, and the media, but differed in their ability to cope with these pressures.

Launching the initiative yesterday, Clíona Ní Chíosáin, of TG’s Aifric, described it as a lifeline for teenagers because it provided non-judgmental information.