According to the McCreary BC Adolescent Health Survey (published in the July issue of the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality), province-wide trends in data from grade 7–12 students in 1992, 1998, and 2003 show that youth are waiting longer to be sexually active. The data also show that among those who have ever had sex, more youth are practising safer sex. As well, sexual violence is less common, and teen pregnancy has declined. Since 1992 the McCreary Centre Society has conducted the surveys every 5 or 6 years in school districts across the province.
Contrary to popular impressions, everyone isn’t doing it, nor are they starting younger: even among the oldest high school students, fewer than half of them had ever had sexual intercourse, and among the youngest teens, that number is less than 1 in 10.
The number of teens who report ever having sexual intercourse declined by a third between 1992 and 2003, from 34% to 23% of males, and from 29% to 24% of females. The number of teens who first had sex before age 14 dropped by almost half. And among those teens who had been sexually active, more of them reported sexual health practices to prevent infections and unintended pregnancy.
The majority of sexually active adolescents, no matter what their age, reported taking steps to protect their health. In 2003, 87% used effective methods of birth control the last time they had sex, a 20% increase compared to 1992. And most of those used condoms.
Youth who had supportive families, or were connected to their schools, for example, were less likely to have ever had sex, to report early sex (before age 14), or to have ever been pregnant or caused a pregnancy. Community involvement was also linked to better sexual health, whether through volunteering or extracurricular activities like sports or clubs.
The lead author of the study is Dr Elizabeth Saewyc, research director at the McCreary Centre Society and associate professor in the School of Nursing at UBC. A copy of the article can be obtained from Dr Saewyc by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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