Aussie women don't know the birds from the bees

Aussie women don't know the birds from the bees

Aussie women don't know the birds from the bees

World Contraception Day revealed that Australian women are not as sexually confident as we make them out to be, it seems we do not have a high understanding of sexual and reproductive health. There is a high lack of knowledge in the areas of their menstrual cycle and contraception which places women at a higher risk of unplanned pregnancy.

A study found showed that only 53% of Australian women between the ages of 20 and 34 know when their next period is due and 45% of women between 30 and 34 were able to predict their next period.

Alarmingly unplanned pregnancy is a reality for over 50% of women; however, two in every three women are engaging in unprotected sex.

Interview with Dr Christine Read

Dr Christine Read is the spokesperson from Sexual Health and Family Planning Australia and Chair of the Australian Women's Health Panel.

What do you think is the most alarming thing the fact that women cannot identify their next period, or are engaging in unprotected sex?

Dr Christine Read: Personally I think the issue of unprotected sex is the most critical concern, however, both issues are very important and both pose consequences. The issue of unprotect sex is critical in terms of risking pregnancy and a sexually transmitted infection, while the issue around not understanding your menstrual cycle is primarily around pregnancy, and also being confident within yourself. For some women, unprotected sex is the key issue, whereas many women may not understand their menstrual cycle, and that could be a key concern for them. Perhaps the biggest concern of all is the women who do not understand their menstrual cycle, but aren't really aware of their lack of knowledge, or don't think of it as being important.

Why do you think half of Australian women cannot indentify their next period?

Dr Christine Read: Interesting question, we don't absolutely have all the answers; however I suspect that one of the big issues is social change. Certainly if we look back to 50 years ago, girls were more focused on their period due to concern of pregnancy. It wasn't acceptable to be pregnant and unmarried. Now we have a more liberal view of people engaging in sexual activity, and it is not as frowned upon to be pregnant outside of marriage. Another issue is that women are not as aware of when they are fertile and when they are not. Contraceptives are more widely and easily available, and when on the oral contraceptive pill, periods change or are lighter, there may not be the monthly bleed to really remind women.

Why do you think women engage in unprotected sex?

Dr Christine Read: Again this is a really interesting question. I suspect that there is an element of risk taking. When alcohol and drugs are involved, women are more relaxed, they are not in control, and therefore take greater risks. Certainly I think partner pressure is a key issue. Sometimes women test their fertility - they are often under the assumption that they can't get pregnant because they used to be on the pill, or for whatever reason. This highlights that we need to educate Australian women and take the focus away from the myths of contraception and sexual health - there are a lot of unfounded myths that women believe to be true, and this has an impact. Another reason that may be controversial is that if a partner does not want a child, often women take ambivalent risks in an unconscious way. I think this is rare, but it is still a factor.

How honest are women in admitting they engage in unprotected sex?

Dr Christine Read: This is hard to answer; it's hard to know if women are being honest with their partner, with themselves in regards to their own motives. In terms of the research, surveys are anonymous, so I wouldn't suggest there would be a reason for a lack of honesty in this regard.

Why do women not understand the basics of sexual and reproductive health?

Dr Christine Read: It boils down to health literacy. We pride ourselves in being literate and intelligent, but I think we have high literacy in health areas that are less embarrassing than sex or reproductive health. We're good about heart health, diabetes, asthma - they're talked about, and discussions are encouraged. However in regards to sexual and reproductive health, we're more embarrassed. It's hard to find good information. Also another key issue is that people don't go looking for this information until there is a crisis. Women need to be vigilant.

What do you believe is at fault for the lack of education in sexual health for Australia women?

Dr Christine Read: As a society, we do not make sexual education a priority. We work hard on making sure our kids earn an income, but emphasis is not placed on sexual education. We're a bit nervous about it. Parents don't want to talk to their kids about sexual health, because they think it's encouraging them to engage in sex. Also, people think that they about sexual health, until something happens. A lot of people lurch from sexual health crisis to crisis, only dealing with the immediate issue and not being well-prepared in advance. There is an attitude that you're promiscuous if you are prepared sexually, and society has some responsibility here.

What is Australia doing to educate Australian women?

Dr Christine Read: The primary source of learning is in the home and then at school for Australian women in their formative years. The public education system is good, but there are still areas of sexual health I'd suggest are a little patchy. There is a key role for doctor and Family Planning organisations to play. The media is another key group - we need to make sure the correct information is out there in the public domain, in magazines, on websites. It's important that we start having conversations about sex in a respectful way.

Is there a website Australian women can visit?

Dr Christine Read: There are a range of online resources available to help women and men understand reproductive health and sexual health. For example, www. contains information about contraception, helps women understand their cycle, and includes a novel symptoms tracker based on the psychiatric diagnostic guidelines to help women track their premenstrual symptoms and start the conversation with their doctor.

Interview by Brooke Hunter