Speaking to youth about sexual health education

Associate Professor Karen Hoare is working with Manurewa High School students, to better understand how they want to be communicated to about sexual health.

Dr Karen Hoare from the School of Nursing.

Chlamydia, herpes, unwanted pregnancy and HIV/Aids are just some of the outcomes of unprotected sex that can lead to infertility, life-long disease and potentially early death. Now four secondary schools in South Auckland are working with researchers and one general practice to ensure the messages around safe sex get through to teenagers in the most effective way.

Associate Professor Karen Hoare from Massey University’s School of Nursing, along with being a business partner in a general practice, leads a team that works with school nurses to provide clinics for students at secondary schools in Manurewa, South Auckland. Alongside providing health care services, including prescribing antibiotics and providing condoms, the team is also looking at ways of reducing sexually transmitted infections (STI) and raising awareness about keeping safe.

Dr Hoare says chlamydia, in particular, is a big problem for young people in New Zealand. “What people don’t realise is that chlamydia rarely causes any unpleasant symptoms, but it can have lifelong consequences, including infertility in both men and women. It’s most commonly found in young people aged 15 to 29 years, and while women have higher rates than men, that may be due to women getting tested more frequently. What is most concerning is that young Māori women have rates two to three times higher than New Zealand Europeans.”

Speaking to youth about how they wish to be communicated with regarding sexual health, Dr Hoare found social media was popular. “Some young women [16 to 18-year-olds] I asked felt using social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter would be a great way to spread the word. They suggested it could be a good place to have conversations, asking questions or debunking myths like ‘Can girls get pregnant if they are on top?’”

When asked what would help them learn about STIs, Dr Hoare says the young people thought, “they should be grossed out as much as possible, by showing them horrible pictures of infections and getting testimonials from people who have had STIs. They said these tactics work because people don’t believe it will happen to them. They suggested we speak at school assemblies, put up posters featuring pictures with not too many words, or start a campaign on social media with hashtags like #SayNoToChlamydia or #ChlamydiaIsNotOurFuture.”

The young men suggested normalising STIs. “There was a suggestion it could be featured as a storyline on Shortland Street, for instance, depicting ordinary people getting an STI and talking about it. They also thought pictures would be effective – saying it might help them realise they may have caught something and need a check-up.”

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