A national survey of university students reveals risky sexual behaviour among the country's brightest young people.
Findings of the 2009 survey were published by Otago University researchers in the New Zealand Medical Journal today.
They reveal an indifferent attitude to safe sex among students aged 17 to 24, including low condom use, multiple sexual partners and unintended pregnancies.
Researcher Rebecca Psutka said the findings might provide insight into New Zealand's high rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
"There has been no representative information on sexual health collected from the general New Zealand population in over 20 years," she said.
"Sexual health is an integral, but often neglected component of overall wellbeing, but if there is very little information it is difficult to set priorities for improvement and to monitor progress."
Of the 2922 students who responded, 69 per cent said they were sexually active. The average age they lost their virginity was 17.
One in five said they had three or more sexual partners in the past year and almost one-third said they had been drinking the last time they had sex.
Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association welfare vice-president Rory McCourt said messages on safe sex and drinking responsibly were circulated around campus.
"There's literally thousands of stories out there about it. It's something that we have to tackle."
A quarter of the students did not use a condom when they slept with their most recent partner for the first time.
There was a trend of decreasing condom use as students got older.
Family Planning chief executive Jackie Edmond said the results were not surprising. It was useful to have the data, she said.
Questions about sexually transmitted infections were not included in the survey, but given the low condom use and multiple sexual partners, the prevalence of them "could be substantial", the report said.
Ms Edmond said there had not been a major public campaign on condoms or contraception for many years. "We obviously have some sexual education happening in schools, though that's a bit haphazard and inconsistent. As a country, New Zealand doesn't have an up-to-date sexual and reproductive health strategy, and that's something we'd like to see."
The study found one in 20 students had, or had contributed to, at least one unintended pregnancy.
Of those pregnancies, 74 per cent of women and 72 per cent of men reported that it was aborted, while a further 19 per cent of men did not know the outcome.
COMMON SENSE GOES OUT WINDOW
For students, alcohol is not just a social lubricant.
Victoria University students spoken to by The Dominion Post said many of their peers relied on dutch courage to initiate sexual encounters.
"No-one has sex unless they're drunk," said Stella Blake-Kelly, 21.
The binge-drinking common in the 17-to-24 age bracket affected their decision-making.
"The university can ply them with as many brochures about sexual health as they want - drinking the way that young people do, a lot of your common sense just goes out the window," Ms Blake-Kelly said.
Harry Evans, 20, agreed. "I know very few people who haven't had a dumb, alcohol-fuelled sexual experience."
Molly McCarthy, 21, said students were more likely to have unprotected sex when they were "wasted".
"When else do you think it's appropriate to go home with someone you've just met?"
First-year students living in halls of residence were particularly likely to take risks, she said.
"You're in such close confines. You've gone out drinking together, you come home together - all the ingredients are there."
Mr Evans agreed that first-year students' new freedom facilitated risky behaviour.
"It's not like a loosening of the chain - it's like the chain's completely gone.
"Sex education in schools doesn't train people for the reality of what they have to deal with.
"I think once you stop being so embarrassed about sex, you finally go, OK, I need to take this seriously."
All three were surprised by the high abortion rate recorded in the survey, but agreed that it was not freely talked about.
The findings that condom use was uncommon, and that 20 per cent of respondents had had more than three sexual partners in the past 12 months, were less of a surprise.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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