Teens taking online sex ed course have reduced sexually transmitted infections, improved condom use
November 06, 2012 - If learning about the birds and the bees from your antiquated teacher in a room full of
giggling adolescents seemed like torture, researchers have found a more effective solution.
A team from the University of Toronto, University of Ottawa, Yale University and including researchers in South America
studied the attitudes and behaviour of ninth graders in Colombia who took an online sexual education course. Those who were sexually
active were found to have fewer sexually transmitted infections, increased condom use and a greater awareness of sexually abusive situations.
"We found very strong and significant effects," said Marco Gonzalez-Navarro, an assistant professor at the University of
Toronto. "Using these tools to provide a more complex sexual health education seemed to work at least in this context."
The study, published as a working paper , tracked
138 ninth graders from 69 public schools in 21 Colombian cities who took a semester-long course provided by Profamilia - an arm
of Planned Parenthood International - at a cost of $14 per student.
Students spent an hour and a half each day in class on the computer, where they worked through interactive modules and
quizzes on topics such as sexual rights, pregnancy, contraceptives and infections.
An important part of the course was access to a remote Profamilia tutor, with whom students could communicate privately to
ask questions and get feedback.
"Using the Internet as a way of educating kids hasn't always shown to be very effective," Gonzalez-Navarro said, but in
the case where discussing sexual activity openly can be awkward for teenagers, working online is an advantage.
"This is one of those topics in which privacy was a big thing," he said.
Researchers conducted a survey of baseline attitudes before the course started, one week after the course had finished and
six months later. Students were also given vouchers for condoms six months after the course,
The results of the study showed a 10-per-cent increase in condom use among students who had taken the course and a
reduction in self-reported infections for those students who were sexually active when the course started.
Gonzalez-Navarro said there was a significant, positive impact on sexual behaviour among friend groups who had taken
"That was pretty encouraging," he said. "You get much more effects if you have groups of kids knowing the same things."
While the number of unwanted pregnancies and the rate of sexually transmitted infections among teens are lower in North
America than Colombia, with more access to sexual education resources, Gonzalez-Navarro said a course like this could still be
"Indicators such as teenage pregnancy are much better in Canada than in Columbia," he said. "But there's still room for
The report used Portugal, which had done exactly that in 2001, as an example of why this recommendation is valid. Since
decriminalization took place, Portugal saw the number of people on methadone and buprenorphine treatment for drug dependency increase
from 6,040 to 14,877, which is funded by money saved on police and prisons. It's also had a drop in new HIV infections among people
who use drugs.
The report, although applicable in many ways to Canada, in no way ensures that the government would act in alignment with its
recommendation, said Elliott.
"It's very useful road map for how the law can be helpful rather than harmful in helping people get access to treatment
and preventing the further spread of HIV," he said. "Certainly, those of us who work on legal and human rights issues will try
to make sure the report has as much of an impact as possible, because the recommendations are very sensible - they're the product of
considerable international evidence and research."
Source: Toronto Star
"Reproduced with permission - Torstar Syndication Services"
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