The federal government is spending up to $250,000 to study the sex habits of Canadian youth.
The sweeping survey will examine the between-the-sheets behaviour of 9,000 young adults aged 18 to 24 across the country, questioning them on everything from the age they first had sexual intercourse to their use of condoms and experiences with sexual coercion or homophobic bullying.
"The results of this research are intended to increase our knowledge of the sexual health of young people in Canada," Public Health Agency of Canada spokeswoman Sylwia Gomes told CBC News. "Increasing our knowledge may allow for the creation of more effective strategies, policies and programs to promote sexual health and to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STI's)."
Survey first of its kind in Canada
The sexual health indicators survey is the first of its kind in Canada, Gomes said. National data is now limited to number of positive tests for sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy rates, age of first intercourse, number of partners, condom and birth control use.
The new survey, recently posted to the government’s public tenders website, will include questions on physical, mental, emotional and social well-being related to sexuality; approaches to sexuality and sexual relationships; sex education in schools; use of sexual health services; sexual experiences; use of contraception and barrier protection and experiences of sexual violence and coercion, including homophobic bullying, Gomes said.
More effective and less invasive testing is one factor driving up reported infection rates, but the survey aims to learn more about other factors to guide future programs that will help prevent the spread of diseases.
Reported rates of sexually transmitted infections have been on the rise since 1997, especially in the 15 to 24 age group. Chlamydia is the most commonly reported STI in Canada, followed by gonorrhea, and the majority of cases are in the 15 to 29 age group (80 per cent of chlamydia cases and 70 per cent of gonorrhea cases.)
"This survey is a first step in increasing our understanding of the factors related to increasing rates of sexually transmitted infections among youth," Gomes said
Dan Sabourin, director of community services for Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa, is concerned about the increased rate of infections among young people – especially among vulnerable youth who lack education, resources and support from caring adults in their lives.
"They often feel alone and unloved, so when a youth does not have access to basic needs like food and stable housing, negotiating safe sex and relationships becomes secondary," he told CBC News. "They want to feel acceptance and will sometimes have sexual contact just to feel accepted."
Sabourin said because sexuality is an important part of transitioning to adulthood, there is a pressing need to address factors that contribute to higher risk, such as poverty, mental health, addictions and child welfare.
"We need to take ‘sex’ out of sexual health, as this becomes a barrier to some who see this as a negative," he said. "We need instead to look at an overall health strategy."