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New survey shows governments are failing to provide access to contraception and sex education

September 3rd, 2009

Dr Petra

New research released from the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), indicates problems still exist globally around accessing contraception and sexual health services.

The survey of over 3000 teenagers in 130 countries found 1:4 young people don’t have access to affordable contraceptives, although many report they are involved in sexual relationships.

Respondents also stated they weren’t getting the sex education they needed (1:3 reported not getting adequate sex ed). Most get their sex information from the media (37%) or peers (28%). This is fairly standard as most young people find these sources more accessible than healthcare professionals or teachers. However, such information is only as good as the media or peers you’re getting it from, and if your mates or the media are wrong about sex then you risk getting poor sex advice too.

More than 90 per cent of those surveyed stated their governments could be doing more to improve access to affordable contraception and other services. It’s worth noting if governments continue to fail to meet the sex education and health needs of young people we will be facing potentially devastating physical and psychological health consequences in the future.

The reason for putting contraception on the political agenda is to ensure better individual health and wellbeing, healthy sustainable families and communities, and ultimately a healthier, more sustainable planet. Ensuring people are able to plan their families will make a major contribution to adaptation strategies for combating climate change, especially in poor countries with high rates of population growth that will be most severely impacted by climate change.

Countries with least resources are least able to manage the impact of the links between rapid population growth, environmental degradation, climate change, equitable access to resources and social and economic development.

Dr. Gill Greer, Director General of IPPF warned, “15 years ago at the landmark International Conference on Population Development in Cairo 179 governments committed to provide better access to sexual health services and family planning. Meeting these needs for young people is a major challenge, but one that governments must face up to; the consequences of failure for the health and well-being of millions will be devastating. Everyone has a right to be able to plan their families by choice not chance, and free from coercion; when women are aware of the benefits of family planning and have access to contraception, they invariably choose more for their children rather than more children.

“A renewed focus on voluntary family planning and contraception around the world would do much to meet the needs and desires of millions of individuals to plan their families and improve their health and well-being. This is one of the great social justice issues of our time.”

The survey was released to coincide with the IPPF preparing to deliver a petition to the United Nations as part of their 15andCounting campaign. The campaign is asking people all over the world to sign the “Count Me In: Sexual Rights for All” petition to demand better access to sexual health services and education for everyone. [I'd recommend visiting the website which has campaign information plus really useful free resources for sex educators and healthcare staff. If you want more information on this campaign or survey drop me an email at info@drpetra.co.uk and I can put you in touch with the people who organised it]

It’s important that while we remain aware of the need to improve access to contraception and healthcare, plus balanced sex education, we need to ensure our focus on education is not just about providing contraception or simply stating ‘use a condom’.

Part of the problem faced by young people globally is the sex education they get is often patchy, tends to focus on biological issues, does not cover aspects of confidence, negotiation, assertiveness and respecting other people’s boundaries. So while the IPPF are right to make a point about access to education and contraception we also need to ensure the quality of sex education is improved, services are more clearly signposted and youth friendly, and media messages in particular are improved.

I’ll continue to report on the 15 and counting campaign. It’s a shame the media weren’t particularly interested in this story given their usual enthusiasm for global sex surveys.

Perhaps the telling thing here is this was for a campaign rather than a commercial product, and rather than promoting articificial country differences and a global sex contest the survey was telling us that young people everywhere feel they’re missing out.

That, to me, is newsworthy and there’s a duty of care to report it. But as we know from the media and sex surveys they’ll cover stuff uncritically when it’s not important. When it is important they’ll either knock it, scaremonger, or blank it completely.

The beauty of blogs, of course, is we can bypass that nonsense and share information. So please feel free to circulate details of this survey and campaign.

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