Sunday, 2 November 2008

The sexual health of Great Britain

This week the Office for National Statistics released the results of their 2007/08 contraception and sexual health survey, which was undertaken as part of the National Statistics Omnibus Survey.

Over four months, 1,164 women aged 16-49 and 1,543 men aged 16-69 completed a questionnaire on contraception use, sexual health, and knowledge of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The survey found that the majority of Brits are monogamous. Men still claim to have had more sexual partners than women but at least are mostly using condoms while they're playing the field. Women, on the other hand, prefer the pill to any other form of contraception. We're not too hot on emergency contraception but know our STIs better than we used to, gleaning most of our info from the TV.

As many as 75% of men and 78% of women reported having had only one sexual partner in the previous year. Within all age groups, a higher proportion of men than women reported multiple sexual partners and more women than men reported having had just one partner.

The pill was the most popular form of contraception, used by 28% of women employing such measures, and the condom was the second most popular method (24%). In total, 43% men and 50% of women had used a condom in the past year, with those who had had more than one sexual partner more likely to have used a condom than those who had only had one partner. More specifically, 80% of men and 82% of women who had multiple partners had used a condom in the past year.

Almost all women (91%) had heard of the morning after pill, but awareness of the emergency intrauterine device (IUD) had dropped from 49% in 2000/01 to 37% in 2007/08. Less than half (49%) of the women who had heard of emergency contraception knew that the morning after pill is effective up to 72 hours after intercourse, while less than 10% were aware that the emergency IUD was effective if inserted up to five days after sex. Only 6% thought that the morning after pill protected against pregnancy until the next period and less than 1% believed that it protected against sexually transmitted infections.

Nearly all respondents correctly identified that chlamydia is an STI (85% of men and 93% of women), far more than in 2000/01 (35% and 65%, respectively), and nearly all men and women knew that gonorrhoea is an STI (92% and 91%, respectively).

Alarmingly, half of all respondents reported making no changes to their behaviour as a result of what they had heard about HIV/AIDS and other STIs, but thankfully more than a third of men and women said they had increased their use of condoms.

Most respondents got their information on STIs from television programmes (31%), followed by TV adverts (22%), and newspapers, magazines or books (20%). On the other hand, the internet was rarely used as a source of information about STIs, even by young people (3% of those aged 16-24).

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