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Launch of Sexual Health Campaign

Hon. Annette King
22 November 2004 Speech Notes

Launch of Sexual Health Campaign

Teenage sex and sexuality is still an uncomfortable and emotive issue for many New Zealanders, but our country faces the reality that rising rates of sexually transmitted infections are simply not going to go away.

That is why this sexual health campaign being launched today is so important.

We owe it to our young people to support an approach toward sexual health that reflects the reality that the number of young people who have contracted a sexually transmitted infection is growing rapidly, and that recognises the findings of studies that show more than 20 per cent of secondary school students are sexually active.

The health community has an obligation to help sexually active young people to protect themselves. Sexually active young people must have the information and tools to protect themselves from STIs.

A sexual health campaign aimed at young people is not going to work if it doesn’t get buy-in from young people.

I am optimistic this campaign will achieve the buy-in it needs because it has largely been chosen and developed by young people themselves.

You will hear more shortly about how the campaign was developed, but before that happens I want to talk more generally about the campaign’s focus, and about why there is such a pressing need not only for the campaign, but also for the campaign to be successful.

I think the point should be made first of all that the campaign doesn’t only focus on condom use. Campaign materials also discuss the wider issues of youth sexual health – such as the consequences of having sex.

Young people are encouraged to think carefully about the sexual decisions they make. Those who are sexually active need protection to reduce their risk from STIs. Unfortunately, many young people don’t plan their first sexual experience and this campaign aims to help young people think realistically and be ready to protect themselves. Information about safer sex helps young people to protect themselves now and in the future.

The campaign had its beginnings in the Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy released by the Ministry of Health in 2001.

This Strategy provided an overall direction for improved sexual and reproductive health outcomes in New Zealand. It highlighted the need to increase knowledge about safe sex and to provide information on sexual health, the risk of STIs and HIV, and on prevention, early diagnosis and treatment.

The consequent development of a safer sex public health campaign as part of the Ministry’s focus on sexual and reproductive health was outlined in the 2003 document, Sexual and Reproductive Health: A resource book for New Zealand health care organisations.

Rates of chlamydia and gonorrhoea have increased significantly in the past few years. Laboratory data suggest the incidence of chlamydia in the New Zealand population is considerably higher than in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, yet chlamydia, gonorrhoea and HIV are all preventable.

Reported cases of Chlamydia have increased by 65 per cent over the past five years, with 4485 cases diagnosed at sexual health clinics in 2003.

Cases of gonorrhoea have also increased by nearly 65 per cent over the past five years. In 2003, there were 673 cases of gonorrhoea diagnosed at sexual health clinics.

HIV rates continue to increase in all risk groups – heterosexual, men-who-have-sex-with-men and injecting drug users. Using a condom protects against HIV transmission, as well as against STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea. Having an existing STI can make it some 10 times easier to contract HIV.

In 2003 New Zealand recorded one of the highest numbers of new HIV infections among men-who-have-sex-with-men since the epidemic began. This trend has continued into 2004, with 34 such cases diagnosed with HIV in the first six months, compared with 33 in the same period last year.

Figures for the second quarter of 2004 – April to June –indicate that much of the new HIV diagnoses are a result of recent unsafe sexual activity. This suggests that commitment to consistent condom use among men-who-have-sex-with-men is starting to slide. Any message that encourages sexually active people, whatever their sexuality, to put condoms back into their sex lives will help reduce the spread of HIV in New Zealand.

Ignoring New Zealand’s increasing STI rate will not make it go away. Most of us take for granted that we will be able to choose when and if we will have children. For some of our young people, this choice is disappearing. STIs can lead to infertility, cancer and other chronic diseases.

The message to young people is simple. You are important, your health is important. If you are having sex, use a condom.

I know that some parents worry that promoting the use of condoms will ‘put the idea of sex into their teenager’s head’. However, the overwhelming weight of evidence shows that programmes that focus on sexuality and discuss contraception, including condom-availability programmes, do not increase sexual activity.

Furthermore, a number of programmes that discuss condoms or other forms of contraception, and encourage their use among sexually active youth, also delay or reduce the frequency of sexual intercourse.

Countries that have low rates of STIs and teen pregnancies generally have in place consistent, long-term sexual health public education programmes. There is open and honest discussion about sex and sexuality at all levels of society. There is access to free or low-cost contraception.
Parents have a vital role in teaching young people about sexual health. However, not all parents are comfortable talking to their teenagers about sex, and some may not have all the relevant information. A 2001 New Zealand survey found that school was the main source of information about sexual health for school students, followed by friends, then parents, magazines, books and television.

I am aware that some groups may ask why we are not promoting abstinence as the main focus of this campaign. Funding is being provided to produce several thousand extra copies of Family Education Network pamphlets on subjects such as how to say no and it’s okay to wait. These pamphlets will be available right around the country.

Research into the effectiveness of abstinence campaigns shows, however, that while young people exposed to the programmes may delay sexual intercourse, when they do have sex they are less likely to use contraception and condoms, and have less knowledge of STIs and how to protect themselves.

A recent study of 12,000 young people has also found that the graduates of abstinence programmes were nearly as likely as other young people to catch STIs such as gonorrhoea or chlamydia.

As I said earlier today, we need to reflect the realities, and respond to what teenagers are doing. We know that significant numbers of New Zealand teens are having sex. Apart from the study that found that more than 20 per cent of secondary school students were sexually active, others put the figure of 14- and 15-year-olds having sex at between 30 and 40 per cent.

Solely promoting abstinence would mean withholding information from young people that could protect their health and fertility, and potentially save their lives.

Used correctly and consistently condoms are an extremely effective method of contraception and of protection against sexually transmitted infections. They greatly reduce the risk of contracting several types of STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhoea, herpes simplex virus type 2 and syphilis. Bacteria and viruses such as HIV cannot pass through an undamaged condom.

As I said, the campaign concept was largely chosen and developed by young people. We needed a concept that would convey the campaign messages in a way that is acceptable to different cultures, easily understood, and appealing and appropriate for the age group.

Youth campaigns tend to be particularly challenging as the message needs to be delivered in a way that gets buy-in from young people, and that isn’t perceived by them as being ‘try-hard’, or ‘uncool’, or as yet another attempt by adults to tell them what to do.

Shortly, you’ll hear more about the background research and concept-testing that preceded the selection by young people of the concept in this campaign.

Suffice to say that the winning concept clearly had the most ‘cut through’ – it was liked by young people, grabbed their attention and delivered the message effectively. The concept had strong appeal to all groups, but in particular to Maori and Pacific males and females and Pakeha males.

The young people consulted felt that the message portrayed was credible and relevant for their age group. It clearly gave the message ‘if you are having sex, use a condom‘. Or, in other words, ‘no condom, no sex’. Or, in still other words, ‘no rubba, no hubba hubba’.

Thank you very much for asking me to launch this campaign today. I cannot over-emphasise how important it is for the health of young New Zealanders.

ENDS

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