October 7, 2010
A survey of Australian students in grades 10 and 12 reveals a surge in risky sexual behaviors over the past decade, while condom use has remained level. Students continue to report high awareness of HIV/AIDS. Knowledge of other STDs improved slightly during the time period.
"Rates of alcohol consumption among secondary students have increased markedly, as has the proportion of young people engaging in sex while under the influence of alcohol and drugs," said Paul Agius of Melbourne's La Trobe University.
"We also found that there is a marked increase in year 12 students having sex with multiple partners," Agius said. In 1997, one in five (19.6 percent) male 12th-graders reported three or more sex partners in the previous year; by 2008, that figure had nearly doubled (38.2 percent). Among female 12th-graders, the proportion reporting three or more sex partners in the past year also increased over the decade, from 12.9 percent to 27.2 percent.
HIV/AIDS awareness held steady over the study period. Young women reported having the highest overall awareness of the risks of unsafe sex, showing the need for public health campaigns targeting young men. "It is concerning that students appear to be better informed about HIV than either [STDs] or hepatitis, which are more common," Agius said.
In 1997, 71.1 percent of young men reported using a condom during their last sexual encounter; the 2008 figure was 70.9 percent. "Although consistent condom use remains moderately high, it is of some concern that condom use has not increased since 1997 despite related increases in sexual activity and increased rates of [STDs]," said Agius.
Australia's teen pregnancy rate ranks among the highest in the developed world, and STDs among young people have risen in the past 10 years.
The study, "Sexual Behavior and Related Knowledge Among a Representative Sample of Secondary School Students Between 1997 and 2008," was published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health (2010;34(5):476-481).