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Friday, 30 November, 2001, 00:24 GMT
Education 'prevents underage sex'
Teenage mothers
Teen pregnancies are more common in those who leave school early
Teenagers who leave school early are less likely to practise safe sex and are more likely to become pregnant, a major study suggests.

The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles 2000 (Natsal 2000) also found a strong correlation between family background, underage sex and teenage pregnancy.

Details of the survey, published in this week's issue of The Lancet, reveal that one in four women and nearly a third of men have sex before they are 16 - the legal age of consent.

But the study, which was last carried out in 1990, also shows an increase in the number of people using condoms during their first sexual experience suggesting the safe-sex campaigns of recent years have been effective.

The survey of 11,161 people aged between 16 and 44 from across the UK reports that schools are the main source of sex education for most young people, those aged between 16 and 24.

Two out of five young men and almost one in three women said they had received information about sex at school. Parents were cited as the main source by 22% of young women and just 8% of young men.

The study found that those who received sex education at school were less likely to have intercourse before they were 16 and were more likely to use contraception.

Similarly, those who left school with a qualification were less likely to have sex early, practise unsafe sex or become pregnant.

Writing in The Lancet, the authors said: "Young people who leave school later, with qualifications, are less likely to have early intercourse, more likely to use contraception at first sex, be sexually competent, and for women less likely to become pregnant.

"Family disruption and lower parental socio-economic status are also associated with early sexual experience and pregnancy when younger than 18 years, but the effect is weaker."

Teenage regrets

According to the survey, many people who have intercourse in their early teens regret the experience.

Two in five men and four in five women who are now in their late teens and early twenties and first had sex at ages 13 and 14 wished they had waited longer.

Overall, women are twice as likely as men to regret their first experience and three times as likely to report being the less willing partner.

Kate Wellings, director of the Centre for Sexual Health Research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and one of the authors of the study, said reports that most young people used contraception was encouraging.

"These results show widespread and increasing use of contraception among young people, despite fears that they might have become more complacent as Aids publicity is less in evidence.

"It's also encouraging, from a prevention point of view, to see that the important factors related to early sexual behaviour and its outcomes are those that we can act on, such as education."

But Anne Weyman, chief executive of the Family Planning Association, urged action.

"We cannot afford to sit on our laurels. There are some worrying trends that must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

"The negative impact for some of early first sexual experience, including the startling increase of young women who regret early sexual experience from 50% to 80%, must be addressed."

See also:

24 Oct 00 | Health
Parents 'ignoring sex education'
27 Jul 01 | Health
Fight steps up on sexual diseases
30 Nov 01 | Health
'Promiscuous' Britain uncovered
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