Objective: Although sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are most prevalent among young people, they do not use condoms consistently to prevent infection. This study examined young people's perceptions of vulnerability to STIs and pregnancy.
Method: A cross-sectional survey on sexual behaviour was carried out on a stratified random sample of school-going Year 12 and Year 13 young people aged 16-18 years in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Results: 1,136 students participated in the study, half of whom were sexually active. Fewer than half of the sexually active participants (44.6%) used condoms on every occasion of sexual intercourse. Only 23% of participants reported that they felt vulnerable to acquiring an STI, with a quarter of respondents reporting not using condoms because they did not think that either they or their partner had an infection, and a quarter reported not using condoms because they used other contraceptive measures.
Conclusions: The results of this study support the premise that young people are more concerned about preventing unwanted pregnancy than STIs. Their perception of low risk of acquiring STIs is not without substance, however, as it was established that there was a low prevalence of Chlamydia trachomatis among this school-going population. The key to achieving more consistent condom use for STI prevention for young people may be through finding ways to get them to accept that they are vulnerable to STIs, despite the low prevalence among their peers, because the consequences of infection are far-reaching.