Survey finds limited knowledge of birth control among sexually-active youth

Stabroek News
January 16, 2016

Although over half of the youth polled in a recent survey were sexually active before the legal age of consent, many still have a very limited understanding of birth control.

The Survey of Adolescent and Youth Sexual Trends in Guyana, which was conducted by the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA), collected data from 392 persons between the ages of 14 and 25 as part of a larger project funded by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The project, titled "Choices," according to GRPA Executive Director Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth, is aimed at increasing and enhancing sexual and reproductive health and rights for adolescents and youth in Guyana.

The survey, which was conducted by consultant Sherlina Nageer and which received responses from eight of the ten administrative regions, is expected to fill several data gaps in the understanding of teenage sexual behaviour. Bisnauth noted that it is expected to "present valuable insight into Guyana's youth population and give a baseline for a more comprehensive study to address sexual trends in adolescents so as to enable them to live a healthy lifestyle as the teenage years are a time for intellectual and emotional growth and a time of dreams and pursuing one's future."

According to the data, presented on Monday at the Cara Lodge Hotel, 53% of Guyanese youth are sexually active before the legal age of consent, which is 16 years.

It also found several large areas of ignorance about sexual and reproductive health.

Nageer noted that while more than 50% of the respondents regularly used condoms and are tested for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), most were not knowledgeable about any STI other than HIV.

"Most of the youth were confusing STI with HIV, so when they say they were getting tested for STI, they meant they were getting tested for HIV. So while they are knowledgeable about HIV, their knowledge of other STIs is limited," she said.

Nageer credits the large scale HIV public education efforts for this knowledge.

Also troubling was the fact that over 50% of the respondents were not using birth control.

In fact, almost 25% of the respondents said they knew nothing of birth control and only 15% could relate specifics about any type of birth control.

Those respondents who knew of birth control were most familiar with condoms, while 6% were misinformed about birth control, with some believing that birth control meant an abortion.

Most troubling was that though 36% of the respondents have been pregnant or gotten a partner pregnant, over 25% of those who had gotten pregnant still didn't know about birth control.

"Even though they had gotten pregnant and then given birth or had an abortion they still did not know about birth control. This tells me that someone is not doing their job about educating the young pregnant girl about what she needs to do to not get pregnant again or until she wants to," Nageer opined.

Minister of Public Health Dr George Norton has repeatedly cited teenage pregnancy as one of the high risk factors for complications leading to maternal deaths.

Guyana's maternal death rate continues to be above the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) recommended ratio of 70 deaths per 100,000 live births.

The survey also revealed information about the exposure of youths to sexual violence. It found that 20% of all sexually active youth reported being forced or coerced in their first sexual experience, with about 25% of all sexually-active females reporting that they were raped or coerced into their first sexual experience compared to 14% of the males. Of the number of respondents who reported being raped or coerced, 75% of those individuals were under the age of consent at the time, while over 25% were under the age of 12.

61% of the perpetrators/coercers were reportedly over 18.

The findings also noted a "disproportionate number of rapes" seem to be occurring in Region One. The region was responsible for 8% of the total people surveyed but accounted for 26% of all rape victims in the survey.