A Look at Sexual Behaviour and STD Awareness Among Italian Adolescents

Sexually transmitted diseases commonly referred to as STDs, are known to be caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi or arthropods. STDs are usually passed on via sexual contact. There are over 30 common STDs. The most common ones are:

STDs are a serious public health threat all over the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) has an estimate of about 1 million people worldwide acquiring a sexually transmitted infection daily. About 500 million get STDs each year.

Studies have shown that adolescents are the most affected population representing almost 50% of all newly acquired STD cases. Recent studies in Italy have shown that young Russians between 15-24 years account for 19.5% of all new cases of STDs. 

With this information in mind, researchers Francesco Drago, Giulia Ciccarese, Francesca Zangrillo, Giulia Gasparini, Ludovica Cogorno, Silvia Riva, Sanja Javor, Emanuele Cozzani, Francesco Broccolo, Susanna Esposito and Aurora Parodi from IRCCS Azienda Ospedaliera Universitaria, University of Milano-Bicocca and Università Degli Studi di Milano in Italy conducted a study involving adolescents in Italian secondary schools. The study aimed at finding out about their STDs knowledge, sexual activities and use of STD prevention methods.

Methods Used in the Study

Information was collected using a written questionnaire in Italian. The questionnaire had 39 questions grouped into three sections; socio-demographics, knowledge about STDs and sexual behavior.

The schools involved were located in the Liguria and Puglia regions within Genoa and Lecce cities respectively. The schools sampled were both secondary schools and vocational schools. This was to enable the use of a heterogeneous sample.

The study was conducted from April 2013 to June 2014 and involved 2867 students from 21 different schools in Italy. 16 of these schools were in the city of Genoa and 5 in the city of Lecce. In both cases, the schools were located in an urban, not rural, setting.

Results of the Study

Among the 2867 students studied, 1271 were males and 1596 were females. Their ages ranged from 14 to 21 years. 25% of the respondents attended professional schools, 22% attended technical institutes while 53% went to high schools.

73.3% of the respondents said they were Catholics while 21.4% said they were atheists. Muslims were 1%, Protestants 0.7%, Orthodox 0.5% and Jewish 0.2%. The study found that religion played a role in influencing sexual choices in only 16% of cases.

The study found 37% of the respondents got information about sex from parents and teachers, 25% from friends, 15% from the Internet, 16% from books and 7% did not want to say the source of their information.

59% of the students in Genoa, compared to only 15% in Lecce received information about sex from parents and teachers. In Lecce, the main sources of information about sex were the Internet (26.5%) and friends (44.5%).

The researchers observed that in Lecce, 47% of the students never talked about sex with their parents, whereas in Genoa, 49% of students talked about sex with their parents regularly.

The students were asked to identify STDs from a list of diseases and only 15 students got the correct answers. 90% of the students identified HIV correctly as an STD, 65.3% syphilis while 46.6% of the respondents identified herpes correctly. When it comes to STD testing, 63% thinks blood tests are useful in diagnosing STDs while 7% think STDs are not diagnosable and 24% have no idea.

68% of those questioned would do a HIV test if their partners asked, 6% would not consider doing while 25% do not know what they would do.

The study also found that 37.3% of the students were currently using condoms, 6.5% were on the contraceptive pill, 2.1% were using both condom and contraceptive pill while 41% were not currently using contraceptive methods.

Urgent Need for Sex Education

From the study, the researchers found there’s an urgent need for sex education in Italy. 95% of the students surveyed felt that schools should be the number sexual educator. The students felt that the current sex education was either very poor or totally non-existing. These sentiments highlight the dysfunction in the Italian educational system.

The researchers feel that all types of secondary schools in Italy should have a sex education course in their curriculum and science teachers should be the ones in charge of such studies. The researchers also recommend that an exam is given at the end of the course to find out if the students have acquired the necessary knowledge on sex and STDs.

Our Take

Adolescents are impressionable and therefore there’s need to monitor their sources of information about sex in order to protect them from getting various STDs. Just like the researchers suggest, we think teachers are better placed to educate students on sex and STDs.

Read the original study here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27089354