Young people using condoms and the pill less and less often

Young people using condoms and the pill less and less often
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Young people are using condoms or the pill as a form of contraception less and less frequently.

A large-scale four-yearly study was carried out on Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) by Ghent University (UGent) with 20,000 participants.

The number of young people aged between 11 and 18 who have had sex remains almost the same compared to four years ago (22%). There is almost no difference between boys and girls, but the researchers observed "a striking evolution" when it comes to the use of contraceptives.

"Fewer young people used a condom during their first sexual contact: a decrease from 72.4% in 2018 to 64.3% in 2022. If we ask about the most recent sexual contact, condom use remains stable," said lead researcher Maxim Dierckens.

Specifically for boys aged 17 and 18, the percentage dropped from 70% to 64%. In the 2014 edition of the study, 10% more boys in that age group used a condom for their first time.

Looking for alternatives

"The use of the contraceptive pill also decreased: in 2022, 61.9% of young people reported using the contraceptive pill, compared to 67.5% in 2018," Dierckens said. In 2018, 73% of girls took the pill at the time of their last sexual contact. Four years later, that number has dropped to just 65%.

The study does not offer a conclusive explanation for the decline in the use of condoms and the pill; no questions were asked about the use of other contraceptives, but the researchers believe that may be part of the explanation.

"The decrease in condom use and the pill may be due to an increase in the use of other contraceptives," said Boris Cruyssaert, spokesperson for the Flemish expertise centre for sexual health Sensoa. "Girls especially may be looking for alternatives because they no longer want to take hormonal contraception or are simply looking for a contraceptive that suits them better."

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Cruyssaert stressed that proper education about sex and sexuality remains crucial to help young people make conscious choices about condom and contraceptive use.

The study is part of the large "Youth and Health" analysis at the request of Flemish Welfare Minister Hilde Crevits. Results on mental, social and physical well-being have already been published previously.

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