A quarter of teens from 15 up say they have had sex
A QUARTER of 15- to 18-year-olds are sexually active with a significant number having their first sexual experience before the age of 14, a new study reveals.
The Health Behaviour in School Aged Children study surveyed 4,088 school pupils aged 15 to 18 about their sexual behaviour and found that 26pc, or 1,065, were sexually active.
Worryingly, 22pc of boys and 13pc of girls who were sexually active revealed they had begun having sex before the age of 14.
The study also found that while the vast majority said they used some form of contraception, 10pc of boys and 6pc of girls used no reliable method.
The study also found that alcohol, smoking and cannabis usage were all factors that played a part in school children's sexual activity.
It was carried out in 2010 as part of a 43-country Health Behaviour in School Aged Children (HBSC) study, which takes place every four years.
In total, the HBSC surveys more than 16,000 Irish school children between the ages of nine and 18 on a range of issues and will be carried out once again later this year.
It questioned the older pupils on whether they felt they were ready for sex at the time of their first experience.
Two-thirds of school children said they were happy with their age while one-third wished they had waited or were not sure.
The pilot study also looked at substance use prior to sexual encounters, and discovered that over 53pc has taken no drugs or alcohol, 37pc had and almost 10pc did not remember.
It also queried the age of school children's partners with the vast majority in the 15- to 16-year-old age bracket.
Honor Young, a senior researcher from the Department of Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI, Galway, said the survey was the first of its kind in Ireland.
"The current situation in Ireland is that there is very limited data on adolescent sexual health behaviours. There's a lot of data looking retrospectively but the actual fact is that we don't ask young people about their sexual behaviours," she said
Ms Young said this had now been acknowledged with the HBSC study. Speaking at a Youth, Alcohol and Sexual Behaviour Seminar at NUI, Galway, Ms Young said she now hoped the findings would be included in the Government's sexual health strategy.
"Data has been supplied to policy makers and we hope it will be used to inform and influence practice and policy. There is a lot of behaviour highlighted in the study that could be addressed," she added.