Large-scale study reveals: Usage of condoms decreases, need for better sex education

26 Jan 2024 ,

Young people make less use of condoms and the pill as contraceptive methods. Moreover, the orgasm gap remains prominent and young people would like to have better sex education. This can be read in the latest ‘Sex under the age of 25’ study, published earlier this week.

The orgasm gap remains ever-present, students have more sexual partners – in student language also known as ‘hookups’ – and the age at which people have sex for the first time keeps increasing. Those are a few of the conclusions drawn from the ‘Sex under the age of 25’ study.

It is the fourth edition of this study, which has been carried out approximately every five years. Researchers of Rutgers, a Dutch centre of expertise on sexuality, Soa Aids Nederland, and several GGDs (Municipal Health Services, ed.) asked young people between the ages of 13 and 25 about their sexual experiences. The results of the study were presented at the beginning of this week.

Illustratie: Visual Chefs for Seks onder je 25e/Leefstijlmonitor, Rutgers and Soa Aids Nederland, RIVM and CBS

Decrease in condom and pill use

Remarkably, the percentage of young people who report that they don’t use contraceptive methods has increased drastically. For instance, less than half of the female respondents take the pill. Whereas the 2012 study showed that 76 per cent of girls used the pill, now only 46 per cent report the use of the contraceptive.

Additionally, the use of condoms has decreased. “A third of young people report that they have never used a condom with their most recent sex partner”, according to the report. “This is an increase compared to the results of 2017”. Also, 40 per cent of young people don’t use a condom during one-night stands.

‘Condoms are the only reliable preventative measure against STIs and unwanted pregnancies’

Sex without a condom is not considered unusual within certain student circles, several students told Vox in the past. The students said that the reason for not using a condom was because they considered it to be a mood killer. The risk of contracting chlamydia, for example, is simply accepted. Supposedly, the disease is easy to cure.

GGD doctor Colette van Bokhoven is quite clear when it comes to condom usage. ‘First of all, everyone should decide for themselves whether to use a condom. But that decision requires consent; no one should be badgered into having sex without a condom. The prevention of STIs is our goal, and preventatives, such as  condoms, are very important to that goal.’

In an earlier article, published over a year ago, Van Bokhoven stated that some STIs are becoming more difficult to treat, due to their increasing resistance to antibiotics. ‘Additionally, condoms are the only reliable preventative measure against STIs and unwanted pregnancies.’

STDs and pregnancy

Nevertheless, the study also shows that there is no increase in the number of STI diagnoses nor in the number of unwanted pregnancies. Soa Aids Nederland researcher Koenraad Vermey does not have an explanation for that: ‘We mainly research trends so we can make comparisons and find relationships. Because of that, we don’t always have an explanation for our findings.’

‘We’ve seen a rise in the number of gonorrhea cases’

Van Bokhoven does have a possible explanation: ‘The number of young people with multiple sexual partners has decreased, which may reduce the spread of STIs.’ She does have one caveat, however. ‘The research has a limited sample size, and only 12 to 18 percent of participants were tested for STIs; we can’t tell if the people who weren’t tested have STIs.’

‘The number of STI cases found by the GGD has actually risen in the past few years. We’ve seen a rise among young people, especially in the number of gonorrhea cases.’

Transgressive behaviour

Participants also reported more experiences of transgressive behaviour. This finding runs counter to the conclusions of the study in 2017, which revealed a decrease in the number of people who experienced sexual harassment. Two out of three girls and three out of ten boys report instances of sexually transgressive behaviour, ranging from nasty comments and unwanted touching to all forms of sex without consent. Sexual harassment is also a pressing problem in Nijmegen.

According to Vermey, this might be the result of the higher rate of reporting transgressive behaviour and the changing norm by which certain kinds of touching and sexually charged comments are no longer considered to be normal. ‘In the past, it might have been more normalised to touch someone’s bottom, but that behaviour is no longer tolerated.’

‘Relationship and sex education should be given a permanent place in all curricula’

Sexually transgressive behaviour is also an important topic in higher education. Just last week, government commissioner Mariëtte Hamer argued for implementing sex education for first-year students in higher education. According to the commissioner, the topics of ‘relationship and sex education’ should be given a permanent place in all curricula.

The ‘Sex under the age of 25’ study also highlights that young people would like to have more sex education. ‘We see that more and more student associations are taking up this task, and we can only encourage that,’ says Vermey.

Orgasm gap

The study also points out that the age at which people start to have sex has increased to an average of 18.7 years, compared to the age of 17 in 2012. Young people also more often choose to have hookups with the same partner. According to the study, this might be the result of the changing views that young people have on sex without being in love. For the first time, girls hold virtually the same views about this as boys do: in 2012, a quarter of the girls (26 per cent) thought it was okay to have sex without being in love, but this changed to almost two-thirds now (62 per cent).

However, the ever-present orgasm gap for heterosexual sex remains remarkable. Whereas 85 per cent of men report mostly or always having an orgasm during sex, that percentage is considerably lower among women (46 per cent). Vermey: ‘We also don’t have a direct explanation for that. This percentage is much higher among lesbian couples.’ According to Van Bokhoven, that difference may be the result of too much emphasis on penetration when it comes to heterosexual sex.

Vermey: ‘There is still a lot of work to be done in that regard.’

Translated by Sophie Verhoeven

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