Sex Study Interview
RMIT University research has revealed big gaps in Australians' understanding of safe sex, with few people using contraceptives correctly and most knowing very little about the range of contraceptive options on the market.
The study asks about lifestyle, contraception, usage of contraception, feelings and sexual education.
Preliminary results from the Contraceptive Experiences Project show half of the people using condoms did not wear them each time they had sex, while about 12 per cent of women using oral contraceptives missed a pill at least once a month.
Alicia Mitic, who is investigating the contraceptive practices, knowledge, attitudes and decision-making of adults as part of her Doctor of Clinical Psychology at RMIT, said most of the 576 people who had taken part in the online survey had only vague knowledge of the contraceptive options available.
Early findings from the questionnaire include:40 per cent of respondents had never been tested for sexually transmitted infections
14 per cent had been diagnosed with some form of STI in the past, primarily genital warts, herpes and chlamydia
17 per cent were unsure of their partner's STI status
3 per cent had lied to their partner in the past about their STI status
More than one-third of respondents had experienced negative side-effects related to contraceptives
What has surprised you about the results?
Alicia Mitic : The most surprising and worrying result that we have found so far is that 40% of our respondents so far have never been tested for sexually transmitted infections. This is a huge concern with regard to safer sex practices. About 14% of the sample had contracted an STI in the past, but this statistic is likely to be higher due to the large number of people who are unaware of their STI status.
Another concerning result was that those using contraceptive methods such as condoms or 'the pill' were not always using them correctly. For example, over half of the participants who used condoms did not use them every time they had sex, or prior to penetration, and about 12% of women using the pill missed a pill at least once per month.
Why have you put together this study?
Alicia Mitic : The issue of safer sex and contraceptive use has fallen out of the spotlight amongst health professionals over the last few years, however the rates of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections appears to be rising. There is also a large amount of anecdotal evidence that men and women are not being adequately informed about the range of contraceptive options available to them, and as a result are experiencing side effects, or failing to use contraceptives appropriately. The aims of the project were to examine the nature of individuals' decision making with regard to contraceptive options, taking into account their knowledge and attitudes toward currently available options.
When will the results be published?
Alicia Mitic : The results should be published in March 2010.
Why do you think that those surveyed know very little about the range of contraception on the market?
Alicia Mitic : My inkling is that people are not talking about these issues with their doctors, and doctors are not offering the wide range of options when discussions about safer sex and contraception come up.
What methods did those surveyed not know about?
Alicia Mitic : Participants had relatively good knowledge about condoms and the pill, however very poor knowledge about all other contraceptive methods (ie. IUD, depo-provera, natural family planning methods, etc)
What is the most popular form of contraception?
Alicia Mitic : Condoms and the oral contraceptive pill - What we found was that pregnancy prevention was the most important reason people cited for using contraceptives, with very few people citing STI prevention as a factor that influenced their choice.
Why do you think people aren't using their contraceptive method correctly?
Alicia Mitic : Partly due to lack of information/education about proper use, and partly due to the fact that people don't perceive themselves to be at risk of pregnancy or contracting an STI when they don't use them properly. The other issue is that often people aren't thinking about safer sex when they're caught up in the moment, and it's often not until they are 'half way though' or even afterwards that these considerations come up.
Do you think the lack of education in regards to contraception has increased the un-wanted pregnancy rates?
Alicia Mitic : I think the incidence of unwanted pregnancy is a very complicated issue that has a number of impacting factors. I feel that education is vital in helping young people understand their options, and the risks associated with unsafe or unprotected sex. However, I am not sure that education or the lack thereof is solely responsible for the rise in unwanted pregnancies.
Using the survey results how will the population be educated so they learn out to correctly protect themselves against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted inflections?
Alicia Mitic : It is hoped that the results of this research will help educate health professionals and government bodies regarding the gaps in community knowledge, as well as the decision making processes individuals go through in deciding which contraceptive option to use. It is likely that as a result of the research, an educational program will be made available to GPs and family planning practitioners, as well as the general public to help guide decision making about contraceptives.
Interview by Brooke Hunter