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Sex education needed to be better tailored to reach adolescents, who were poorly informed about the most effective means of long-term contraception, a New Zealand Medical Journal report written by University of Otago researchers and published today said.
New Zealand has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the OECD, but most young people relied on condoms (13% failure rate) and the pill (7% failure rate) rather than a more dependable method of contraception, such as an implant or IUD.
"That leaves a significant risk for pregnancy in a group not intending to become pregnant," the article said.
"If we have the tools to significantly reduce unintended pregnancy, why not offer them?"
The study, by Rebecca Duncan, Helen Paterson, Lynley Anderson and Neil Pickering, found a significant lack of knowledge about IUDs and implanted contraceptive devices among young people.
Many believed myths or misconceptions, or were simply ignorant about them.
"The lack of accurate knowledge was a source of frustration for participants.
"The educative role of a proactive provision programme could resolve this frustration."
Judy Buckley, director of Murihiku Young Parents' Learning Centre - a school for teenage parents, under the governance of James Hargest College in Invercargill - told the Otago Daily Times many of the young people she dealt with had missed out on education programmes or good health services.
"Many of those young people have fallen through the gap a little bit," she said.
Sexual education was an integral part of the Teen Parent School curriculum, which changed annually, depending on the pupils.
MYPLC was funded for 30 pupils and last year had 29.
"That's about right for Invercargill, but Dunedin has no teen parent unit - the South Island has one in Nelson, two in Christchurch and us, so there is definitely a gap there."
Dunedin GP Jill McIlraith, a long-time worker with the Dunedin Sexual Health Clinic, said better sexual health education was all very well, but by the time teenagers realised they needed it, it was already too late.
"Schools do reasonably well and Family Planning puts in a huge amount of time and effort, the Sexual Health Clinic does, but how do you make people pay attention?" Dr McIlraith asked.
"I think there is a much bigger problem ... which is a degree of hypocrisy that goes back to parents not liking to address it and thinking it is an outside agency's responsibility, when it probably should start years before school."
The article recommended a proactive approach, where healthcare providers routinely offered contraception - including IUDs and implants - to overcome barriers such as cost or fear which prevented teenagers using them.