November 18, 2008

Experts Suggest Alcohol Counseling In Teen Sex Education

Results of a recent survey of sexual attitudes among boys and girls has led British researchers to recommended that health care providers include discussions about alcohol when talking about sexual health with adolescents.

"We must ensure that alcohol education is a key element of sex education and help young people to realize the vulnerability to sexual ill health alcohol abuse can create," Dr. Mark Hayter of the University of Sheffield in the UK, who worked on the study, told Reuters.

Adolescents are at high risk of sexual health problems such as sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy, wrote Dr. Hayter and Dr. Christina Harrison of Doncaster Primary Care Trust in a report about the study.

To better understand gender differences in attitudes about sex among young people, Harrison and Hayter conducted 10 focus groups with 35 teens aged 14- to 16-year-old. The participants were attending a sexual health clinic at a youth club serving a "socially deprived" area with high rates of teen pregnancy.  Five groups were all girls, while the rest were all boys.

Each group discussed four sets of circumstances: a couple in which the girl doesn't want to have sex but the boy does; a boy who is being pressured by his friends because he doesn't want to have sex with his girlfriend; a popular girl with a reputation for promiscuity with older boys; and a girl who is put in a situation where she is expected to have sex after her two friends pair off with three boys.

The researchers found remarkable differences in the way in which boys and girls viewed these situations.

While the girls showed a more complex comprehension of the situations and showed empathy for all involved, the boys only discussed how the male in the situation was thinking, "not demonstrating any empathy with the female partner in the relationship," the researchers said.

And while the girls never displayed "negative, aggressive or coercive language" when discussing sex, the boys, however, did. For instance, some boys said that a boy whose girlfriend slept around would be well within his rights to "slap her in the face", and that pressuring a girl to have sex is "not a proper rape sort of thing."

Boys also discussed getting girls drunk so they would be more likely to have sex with them.

Based on these results, Hayter and Harrison suggest that health care providers who work with adolescents do whatever they can to develop boys' ability to empathize with girls.  They also suggest that health providers work to assist young women in developing and perfecting social skills to resist pressure from boys and others to have sex.

"Helping young people to approach alcohol sensibly should be a key element of sexual health promotion," the researchers said, considering  that alcohol and sex are "inextricably linked."

A report about the study was published in the November 2008 Journal of Clinical Nursing.


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