The authors used a representative sample of 500 eighteen year olds. 48% were male and 52% were female. The aim of the on-line survey was “to explore young people’s attitudes to sex and relationships in a digital age”.
NB: Although the report is a good and interesting read, it does lack scientific rigour. It would’ve been really useful to have more details about the methodology used, and to include a copy of the online survey as an appendix. Without this detailed information, it can be difficult to judge the findings.
My research is specifically looking at how contraception is provided to 16-24 year olds following the Health and Social Care Act (2012). However there are some important overlaps with this research. For example. this research provides strong evidence (much in line with previous studies) that there is a big gap between what young people want and need, and what they are provided with in terms of sexual health and education.
I would expect that providers of contraception (and sexual health services for young people, more broadly) who invest time in talking with young people to find out what they need are more likely to address this gap. Therefore community engagement would form an important part of an ideal contraception service. It would be interesting to find out what proportion of contraception providers have community engagement written into their contracts, or do this as a regular activity to inform service development…
(…and hopefully next year I will have done this research and can report back!)
This report also points out that the views and experiences of eighteen year olds is likely to be different from younger teenagers. Every generation faces different social contexts, and within these different challenges. On top of the standard teenage sex-related challenges (e.g. sexual health, pregnancy, consent, coercion and respect, and gender dynamics), there are new challenges such as pornography, sexting, and understanding how to manage your digital footprint. Technology is changing and developing so quickly, influencing and shaping how society interacts and communicates.
What are the implications of changing technology to the provision of contraception? Firstly, services ought to keep up to speed with the latest digital platforms to provide information about accessing their service and contraception to young people. This is something which I personally feel most health services tend to lag behind with. Or for some providers who do engage with social media, they clearly lack an understanding of how to use the platform and it becomes a wasted opportunity.
Secondly, contraception services ought to be aware of competition and/or competing risks which are starting to develop. At a recent conference I learnt that it is becoming increasingly easy to obtain contraception online. For example, via Superdrug’s on-line doctor website you can order up to 6 months supply of the contraceptive pill. Although there are potentially many advantages to this service, there are many risks too. For example there are no safeguards regarding age verification or medical history. It’s really easy to ‘give the right answers’ (or change your answers so that no further questions are prompted) and place an order. Services providing contraception ought to be aware of new and developing ways to get contraception in order to stay ahead of the game.
My final thought is regarding providing holistic support to young people. I’m a firm believer that SRE should absolutely be mandatory, and should start earlier in the school system rather than later. Cynically, I don’t think this is going to happen anytime soon. Therefore in the interim, wouldn’t it be great if services providing contraception took on a holistic approach anyway? This could be linking up with talking/counselling services, signposting to support on body image, managing relationship, and all those other important things which young people want to know about (as highlighted in the graph below). Services ought to have a duty to ensure that as far as possible they can meet the needs of their population, and when their needs are provided by other services, make it as easy as possible to bring that support to young people.