Sexuality education 'helps cut infection rate'

Two students getting ready for their sex education class. PHOTO: ST FILE

The number of teenagers diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) has plunged, as more young people know how to protect themselves against such diseases.

In 2014, there were 391 youngsters aged between 10 and 19 who were diagnosed with an STI.

This is fewer than half the 887 diagnosed in 2008 when the number of teen infections was at its peak.

The data for last year is not available yet, said the Department of Sexually Transmitted Infections Control (DSC) Clinic, which collates the number of infections in Singapore.

The DSC Clinic is run by the National Skin Centre's Department of STI Control and is a specialist clinic for STIs.

Its spokesman attributed the fall to youth being more aware of how to protect themselves from being infected. This is due to sexuality education programmes in schools.

Doctors and social workers say teens are also more aware of using condoms.

The Health Promotion Board and Education Ministry came up with an STI and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) prevention programme called eTeens.

While the key message is that abstinence before marriage is the best course of action, "it provides accurate information on STI, HIV and protection from a health perspective to enable them to make informed and sensible decisions", the DSC Clinic spokesman said.

The most common STIs diagnosed among teenagers are gonorrhoea and chlamydia infection. And almost twice as many girls, compared with boys, were diagnosed as having an STI, the spokesman said.

One reason is that teenage girls are biologically more susceptible to infections like chlamydia.

Dr Tan Kok Kuan of the private clinic Dr Tan & Partners said that young girls are also more likely to have older and more sexually active partners, and this increases their chances of catching an STI.

Doctors interviewed say teens who get tested for an STI usually have at least a few sexual partners.

For girls, their partners are boyfriends or even casual friends. For boys, besides girlfriends, they also could be having sex with a prostitute.

For example, Dr Tan said he recently saw a 17-year-old boy who caught chlamydia from a prostitute in Geylang. It was the student's first sexual encounter.

Social workers and doctors interviewed also shared another observation: More teens they see these days have multiple sexual partners. Some even change a few partners in just a year.

"I find that teens' attitudes towards sex these days are a lot more blase. Some are even having sex with casual friends whom they are not in a relationship with," said Dr Tan. "It's like meeting up to have sex these days is almost as casual as meeting up for a game of tennis."

Theresa Tan

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 10, 2016, with the headline Sexuality education 'helps cut infection rate'. Subscribe