Learning about contraception: teenagers talk about the utility of school
sex education and other information sources
K. Buston, D. Wight
MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, UK
Introduction: The correct use of contraceptives is key to preventing
unwanted pregnancies amongst young women. In recent years school sex education
has improved, partly in response to this. Notably, skills-based sessions
focusing on condom use have become more commonplace. SHARE commenced in 1996 and
is an ongoing multi-method study investigating the sexual behaviour of young
people. A wealth of data has been collected, including information that can shed
light on where young people learn about contraception and whether, and how, this
impacts on their contraceptive use.
Aims and methods: This paper analyses data collected during in-depth
interviews (n=65) and group discussions (n=16) with male and female pupils from
six schools in the east of Scotland. Framework analysis has been employed in
order to summarise the data and provide explanations.
Results: Information on contraceptives was one of the most commonly
cited highlights of school sex education for both the young men and young women.
A high number of those who had received condom skills instruction valued this,
though more young men than young women talked about having changed, or intending
to change, their behaviour based on what they had learnt. Many of the young
women criticised school for failing to provide details regarding contraceptive
use (for example saying that lessons were effective in providing information on
what emergency contraception was and how it could be used, but not on where in
the local area it could be obtained and how, precisely, one could get it).
Non-school sources that young women cited as important in influencing their
contraceptive behaviour included information from female relatives or older
peers, and discovering that a friend was pregnant. While parents were generally
a much less important source of information on sex for the young men than for
the young women, a significant minority of young men had received advice from
their mother and/or father about using a condom to avoid pregnancy in a partner.
Several described how a parent had offered to get condoms for them, or had
passed condoms to them. This often proved influential in getting young men to
always use a condom.
Conclusions: The utility of school sex education for imparting
knowledge and, perhaps more importantly, skills should not be dismissed or
underestimated. The potential for parents to influence their son’s condom use
should be explored further.