A study shows serious deficiencies in the sex education of university students
José Pichel Andrés/DICYT A study of the University of Salamanca shows a great lack of knowledge of sexual health among young university students of the first academic years of this institution. Ignorance of diseases of sexual transmission and risky behaviour are common. Moreover, the research also detected that young women have a high emotional dependence on their male partners; this was not the case in previous generations.
In a survey of 548 students of the 1st and 2nd years of various degree courses, of which 97.3% were in a sexual relationship, “61.2% of the women declared that 25% of the time they have sex so that their boyfriends won't leave them”, explain Carmen López Sosa and Montse Alonso Sardón, lecturers of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Salamanca. The researchers consider this submissive attitude to be particularly surprising in an university environment, where the goal is the achieving of a means of livelihood to allow economic independence and therefore freedom. Only 1.8% of men gave this answer.
For both sexes the social pressure to be in a sexual relationship is noteworthy; this is reflected in answers such as “I do it because it's the normal thing to do” or “because everybody does it”. These are reasons for having sex in 100% of cases for 12.4% of those polled. 45% declare that they have sex for love on all occasions and 3.8% declare that their motivation is always pleasure.
On the other hand, “the reason they give for using contraceptive methods is almost exclusively the avoidance of pregnancies; they have no awareness of sexually transmitted diseases”, they comment. Almost 90% only know of AIDS, which they do not distinguish from the HIV; in other words "they do not know that the disease comes first and then the virus, and that a person may be a carrier without developing the disease”.
University students hardly know what the human papilloma virus is and that “it is also necessary to use a condom when practising oral sex to avoid infections such as condyloma in the oral cavity, and neither do they know that recurrent candidiasis is linked to cunnilingus”. Moreover, doctors do not tend to ask about matters of sexual intimacy or varieties of sexual conduct and this perpetuates infections.
In general the data reveal a significant lack of knowledge among young people. Over 65% of those interviewed state they have been not given sufficient sex information either at home or at school. In contrast, Internet and their group of friends play an important role.
Given this scenario, “we were very interested to find out the quality of the information they receive through detailed questioning”, the researchers point out. “When they are asked about the condom or the morning-after pill they say they know what they are, but they are not capable of distinguishing between myth and reality and do not use them correctly”, they add.
Myths that persist
Young people therefore retain false beliefs, such as there are no risks during the first sexual encounter and that a good physical appearance is a guarantee that the other person has no diseases. “In the intervention courses that we give they are surprised when we tell them that a single sexual encounter is sufficient to become pregnant or to contract an infectious disease”, the lecturers of the Faculty of Medicine point out.
Despite the fact that the use of condoms has increased in recent years, women do not consider using them to be their responsibility but rather that of the men, and hardly anybody uses them during 100% of their sexual encounters. These data resulted from this extensive survey which was carried out in 2013 and has kept the researchers busy during the past year analysing them; this information will eventually be part of a doctoral thesis.
According to Carmen López Sosa and Montse Alonso Sardón, the banishing of myths and deficient sex information is a very difficult task as young people grow up. Early education is the only way to improve the situation, taking into account that 22% of the young people had had sex before the age of 16. For this reason, “nurses, doctors, and teachers should undergo compulsory training in this field; they are essential agents if the situation is to be improved”, they conclude. In recent years however the reverse has been true as only a few Spanish universities retain optional subjects on sex, among them the University of Salamanca, and then in association with very specific degree courses such as Medicine and Psychology.