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Toronto Star -

Teens taking online sex ed course have reduced sexually transmitted infections, improved condom use

Marco Gonzalez-Navarro is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto who was part of research team that found an online sexual education course improved the sexual behaviours and attitudes of Comlombian ninth graders.

Jennifer Pagliaro
Staff Reporter

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 the course.

"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 implemented here.

"Indicators such as teenage pregnancy are much better in Canada than in Columbia," he said. "But there's still room for improvement."

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"

Toronto Star

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