Maltese teens shun protection despite sex-ed, WHO study finds

Despite sexual health classes at school, Maltese teens register the lowest prevalence of condom use in Europe 

Maltese teenagers registered the lowest prevalence of condom use, the international Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study published by the WHO Regional Office for Europe found.

According to the study, 52% of teenagers on the island do not use the two most effective contraceptive methods – a condom or a pill. In fact, 43% of boys and 61% of girls aged 15 said they did not use the pill or a condom during their most recent instances of sexual intercourse.

During the 2018/2019 scholastic year, a total of 31 students became pregnant while in secondary school, according to data tabled in parliament. Of these, three were 14, eleven were 15, and the rest became pregnant at 16.

A spokesperson for the education ministry, speaking on behalf of the education department, said that while sexual health is taught in Personal Social and Career Development (PSCD) lessons at school, the explanation for the HBSC figures falls elsewhere.

“The fact that girls of that age group, need a prescription from their family doctor to have access to the pill could be a defining factor as to why the figures are so high… there are unfortunately still myths surrounding the use of condoms, such as the perception that condoms reduce sexual pleasure, or that partners disapprove of condom use.”

Contraception is also not cheap for teenagers who are unlikely to have a source of income.

“Several factors such as individual and family socio-demographic status, attitude, and partner-related factors, influence condom use. The wrong belief that this ‘will not happen to me,’” the spokesperson said.

The PSCD syllabus is a developmental one in Malta. From year four to year 11, students are given age-appropriate resources and lessons. The main goal of sex education is that of “equipping children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will empower them to develop a positive view of sexuality” – students are invited to reflect on the ABC model: abstinence, responsibility, and the use of condoms, when one is sexually active.

“Different reflective workbooks are used for each year on different topics. The information, exercises and illustrations regarding the pill and different contraceptives, including the correct use of the condom on the PSCD workbooks of year 9 and 10 (ages 12-13) are evidence that the topic is given its due importance,” the spokesperson said.

Additionally, state schools also have a contraceptive kit, which includes different kinds of contraceptives and a model so teachers demonstrate how a condom is properly put on.

What could help remedy the worrying figures is an increased awareness campaign on condom usage, the spokesperson said, using different social media platforms as well as a national campaign that supports parents and caregivers in promoting healthy sexual development and sexuality, “Including the use of condoms to protect against STIs and unplanned pregnancy will help to raise awareness about the importance of using protection when sexually active.”

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