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Sexual Health Survey Reinforces Importance of Condom Use

Results from New Zealand’s first comprehensive sexual health survey reinforce the need for greater condom use.

Initial results from the survey, which was conducted three years ago in 2015 and included over 10,000 New Zealanders aged 15 years and over, show that half of all New Zealanders have had sex by the time they are 17 years old - in line with similar survey results from the UK.

The survey assessed the proportion of positive heterosexual relationships for this first time – where both men and women were equally willing to have sex.

Generally the results were good - most respondents said they and their partners were “both equally willing” to have sex that first time.
However the survey showed significant differences for men and women - with men (96%) more likely to report that they and their partners were equally willing than women (84%).

Deputy Director of Public Health Dr Niki Stefanogiannis says there is some good news about condom use – today’s younger people are much more likely to use condoms with their first sexual encounters - 80% up from less than 40% in the 1970s.

However that still means two out of every 10 of first sexual encounters don’t involve a condom. Condom use is vitally important for both preventing unwanted pregnancies as well as preventing sexually transmitted infections – particularly in light of recent increases in the number of people with syphilis.

People who have multiple sexual partners are at even higher risk and the survey found that they are less likely to use a condom ever time.

Nearly 60% of those surveyed reported not using a condom every time when they had more than two sexual partners in the previous year. The Ministry is looking at options on how we can support the increased use of condoms.

The survey also asked respondents if they had ever been made to have sex since they were 13 years old. There were significant gender differences, with women (11%) more likely to report they had been made to have sex than men (3%). In only 17 percent, this was with a stranger.
This information will be useful for those providing sexual health services and sex education to young people, as well as informing policies aiming to reduce family and sexual violence.

The survey results were presented at an Auckland conference (International Union for Sexually Transmitted Infections) which also heard about New Zealand following trends seen in Australia, the US and UK with a recent rise in syphilis locally with 470 cases reported in 2017.

The rise prompted the Ministry of Health to convene a working group with representatives from the New Zealand AIDS Foundation, Body Positive, District Health Boards, public health units and sexual health services to identify the way forward in addressing the increasing syphilis rates being reported.

Dr Stefanogiannis says the Ministry of Health will also be presenting information from the survey to the Ministry of Education to help ensure the most up-to-date information about New Zealand’s sexual health behaviour is available to Boards of Trustees, school leaders and external providers of sexuality education in schools.

The survey is being described as a useful tool for researchers and health professionals working in sexual health and there is much more to be gleaned from the survey.

Not all of the information in the survey had yet been analysed. The Ministry plan to make the anonymised survey data available next year for researchers and others wanting more detail in many of the different areas covered by the survey.

Key Results:
More than 10,000 people were surveyed between June 2014 and July 2015

• half of New Zealand adults have had sex by the time they are 17 years old.

• 20% of adults have had sex before they are 16 years old. A larger proportion of Mâori have sex before they are 16 years - Mâori 39%, European 21%, Pacific 20%, Asian 4%

• 80% of young people (16-24 years) used a condom the first time they had sex

• 84% of women and 96% of men said they and their partners were “both equally willing” to have sex that first time

• the likelihood of having sex with at least 2 people in the previous year falls with increasing age: 27% of 16-24-year-olds had at least two sex partners in the previous year, compared to 15% of 25-34 year olds*

• over half (57%) of people who had at least two sexual partners in the previous year didn’t use a condom every time they had sex.

• 11% for women and 3% for men have had an incident of sex against their will in their lifetime (since they were 13 years old)

• on average men are younger (15 years old) than women (18 years old) the last time they had sex against their will.

• in only 17% of cases is it a stranger.

*The difference is even more apparent when just considering adults who'd ever had sex: of the 16-24-year-olds who'd ever had sex, 40% had at least 2 partners in last year vs 16% of 25 -34 year olds. That's because only 68% of 16-24 year olds have ever had sex, compared with 92% of 25-34 year olds.


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