Sex and sexual behaviour are an extremely important aspect of human behaviour, with implications for both individuals and societies. Sexual relationships can give immense pleasure and fulfilment to individuals, create families and ultimately underpin the viability of societies, but they can also have less positive consequences. For example, rates of sexually transmitted infections have been increasing strongly in Ireland since the mid-1990s, and rates of crisis pregnancy also seem to be increasing (NDSC 2004). More worryingly, much of the increase in STIs has been among younger people and particularly those under 25. It also appears that pregnancy rates among women under 20 have been increasing over the last 15 years, although statistics here are problematic and need to be contextualised. For example, the birth rate among women under 20 in Ireland has been increasing since the early 90s, but present rates are still well below those in recent decades. Similarly, there has been a steady increase in the number of abortions among 15-19 year olds with Irish addresses in Britain (Hyde & Howlett, 2005) since the early 1970s, but it is not known whether this increase is real or the consequence of changes in patterns of reporting.
In the first chapter of this study we examine past research on the sexual knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of young people, both abroad and in Ireland, and examine the methodology that has been used, the questions asked and the age groups covered. Although Ireland does not, as yet, have a national KAB survey, this delay, at least, has the advantage that Irish researchers can learn from the lessons learnt in other countries when undertaking their surveys. As such, the second chapter of this study examines the broad range of methodological issues that need to be addressed when contemplating a national KAB survey of young people. Chief among these are the target population that is to be studied, the age range, the sampling strategy and implementation that are to be used, as well as crucial questions concerning issues of consent and support. The second chapter finishes with a set of recommendations as to the appropriate methodology that should be used. In the third and final chapter we report on the outcome of two consultation days, which were held in Dublin early in 2005 for stakeholders in the areas of public health, health promotion and education. Over two days around thirty representatives of national bodies and interested parties discussed and debated a large number of issues around whether and how a national KAB survey among young people should be carried out. This produced a huge number of recommendations and insights into the practical, ethical and research issues that should be addressed before any field work commences. Yet what was perhaps most striking about these two days was the high level of agreement that existed across all parties involved that a national KAB study among young people in Ireland was essential.
Layte R, Willian J, Quail A, McGee H. Scoping study for knowledge, attitudes and behaviours survey towards relationships, sexual and reproductive health among young people in Ireland. Crisis Pregnancy Agency Report, July 2005.