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Healthy sex message transmitted

Teachers are good at telling 15-year-olds what they need to know about sex but pupils are unlikely to confide in them, a major study has revealed, writes David Henderson.

More than three out of four 15-year-olds have gleaned vital sex education information from their teachers in the past year but fewer than one in 40 will chat to staff about sensitive issues, according to research on 736 Scottish teenagers.

The Health Education Board for Scotland report gives schools top marks for providing key information about safer sex and says that more teenagers are better equipped than ever to deal with sexual relationships.

The study, led by Dr Candace Currie of Edinburgh University, shows that more than a third of 15-year-olds have had sex, a 9 per cent rise between 1990 and 1994.

More than twice as many boys (29 per cent) as girls (13 per cent) cite school as their main source of information.

The report says there have been significant increases in school discussions about sex education between 1990 and 1994. Talks about personal relationships have risen from 64 per cent to 83 per cent, pregnancy from 75 per cent to 84 per cent, contraceptives from 79 per cent to 86 per cent, AIDS from 75 per cent to 87 per cent, and sexually-transmitted diseases from 58 per cent to 74 per cent.

Dr Currie said: "Traditional Scottish reticence about discussing sex is breaking down with nearly 80 per cent of all pupils having discussed sexual matters with their friends. But we weren't surprised to find that only 10 per cent found it easiest to talk about sex with their parents."

The study found teenagers are using condoms more - 60 per cent of boys confirmed they had used a condom the last time they had sex. Boys and girls appeared to be more comfortable about carrying condoms than their peers were four years earlier.

The research also tested young people's knowledge and attitude to AIDS. Around 200 teenagers in Scotland have the HIV virus.

David Campbell, HEBS chairman, said it was important to remember that two-thirds of 15-year-olds wait until they are older before having sex for the first time. "We can help young people be reassured that not everybody's doing it," he said.

Health behaviours of Scottish school children, Report 6, is published by the Health Education Board for Scotland and the Research Unit in Health and Behavioural Change, Edinburgh University.

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