A new survey published yesterday gives a detailed picture of the attitudes of young Australians towards sex and sexual health. It finds a majority of Australians aged 14 to 18 have had a sexual experience and a majority expressed positive attitudes toward sex. However, many participants reported experiences of sexual violence and coercion, and rates of sexual health checking were low.
The results come from the National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health. It’s a government-funded survey which was first run in 1992. These latest results are from 2021.
Nearly 7,000 people aged 14 to 18 participated, including young women (65%), young men (28%) and non-binary young people (7%).
Participants came from a range of cultural backgrounds and from both cities and rural areas.
Just over half of the participants identified their sexuality as ‘straight’ or ‘heterosexual’ (58%).
23% identified as bisexual, 6% as gay or lesbian, 6.5% used another term and 6.1% said they were unsure.
The survey authors note the proportion of LGBTIQ+ participants is higher than reported in other surveys, suggesting this may be “an over-representation… [but] may also reflect an increasing number of young people identifying their sexuality in terms other than heterosexual.”
A majority of participants reported at least one sexual experience (61%).
Levels were historically high – for example, only one in five Year 10s had had vaginal or anal sex in 1997, compared to nearly half today.
Most reported positive experiences (63%), although this was higher for young heterosexual men.
Participants reported high levels of understanding about sexual health practices, but low levels of adoption of healthy practices.
While three quarters said they planned to use a condom the next time they had sex, less than half said they used one last time.
Most agreed regular STI testing was important (72%) but only 15% had ever had a check and only 39% knew where to go.
Sexting and porn
Most participants had sent and received sexual messages. Young women were more likely to have done both than young men.
About one in six participants said their sexual images had been shared without their permission – almost twice as likely for young women as for young men.
Most had watched porn at some stage, but only about one in three watched it at least weekly.
Participants were asked if they had “ever had sex when they didn’t want to” – 40% said they had, including 55% of non-binary young people, 45% of young women and 21% of young men.
The most commonly-reported form of pressure was verbal (65%), but 32% said they were physically forced and 28% said they had been too drunk or too high to consent.
Less than one in four of those who had these experiences talked to someone about them or sought help.
Consent activist Chanel Contos told TDA the figures around ‘unwanted’ sex “should be alarming to everyone”.
“Unwanted sex falls on the spectrum of sexual violence and should be treated seriously,” Contos said.
“I hope this speaks to the urgency of implementing explicit and holistic consent education about sex in high school.”