SINGAPORE — A Singaporean study of 688 sexually active teens has found that there is an increasing pattern of adolescents getting diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
According to the Department of Sexually Transmitted Infections Control (DSC) Clinic, results from the study found that 421 teenage boys and girls – aged between 10 to 19 – contracted an STI in 2015, an 8% increase from 2014 where there were just 391 cases reported.
Experts commented saying young people are not clueless about protection but they merely opt to engage in sexual activities without using condoms. It was found within this study group there were teens that engaged in these activities before the age of 16 and there were some teenagers who had a few sexual partners prior to reaching adulthood.
In 2007, there were 820 cases recorded of such nature and had been steadily reducing until 2015. This study found that generally, over 90% of all adolescent STI cases were made up of those aged 15 to 19.
Condom use to prevent STIs
Out of the STIs in this study, chlamydia is the most common infection with gonorrhoea being a distant second. Third most common is genital warts.
Dr Tan Wei Sheng, deputy head of DSC Clinic relayed his concerns with the lack of condom use amongst the teenagers despite being aware of its beneficial barrier effects against STIs. He said, “Youth today are quite savvy (about sex and contraception), more so than before; but it is not translating into action.”
Based on a DSC study published in 2013, 90% of girls and 25% of boys claimed to lack confidence in correctly using a condom and 25%. Mr Tan Ee Han, senior counsellor at DSC added that adolescents may wrongly believe that they are “too young” to contract STIs and engage freely in this risky behaviour.
The KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) works with DSC to manage cases of pregnant adolescents with STIs. Dr Suzanna Sulaiman, consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at KKH said, “Compared with adults, pregnant adolescents may not understand what a healthy pregnancy entails. They are also less likely to understand the importance of antenatal care and good nutrition during pregnancy, and may continue to adopt high-risk behaviours.”
Counselling effective in tackling STIs among teens
Concurrently with this study, researchers investigated the effects of counselling teens and its ability to dissuade them from pre-marital intercourse. The intervention group received behavioural counselling while the control group received routine care by DSC staff.
Associate Professor Wong Mee Lian and her team found that 16 years old was the average age when these teenagers lost their virginity but a few engaged in intercourse from the age of 10. The boys had an average of three sexual partners at polling time while girls had four. Many of the boys had intercourse with casual partners or prostitutes and most of the girls engaged in intercourse with their boyfriends.
The intervention group underwent three counselling sessions where they reflected on their influences and set goals like practicing abstinence or remaining faithful to one partner. The group also learnt about STIs and using condoms. Prof Wong said, “Our intervention is not just about giving them knowledge. We stress giving them the skills to, for example, say no. We do not force our message on them but we tailor our messages to what matters to them.”
Six months later, 41% of the boys in the intervention group abstained from sex, which was double the control group’s number. However, the girls were not significantly impacted but were 1.3 times more likely to stick to one partner compared to the control group. MIMS / Reshmin Kaur Cheema