Rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Canada are rising, and a new survey suggests many young Canadians may not be protecting themselves.
The research, which was released by condom brand Trojan in partnership with the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN) and the University of Guelph, found many young people between the ages of 18 and 24 do not use condoms overall.
The survey noted, however, this did not suggest young adults were not using other forms of birth control like the pill or intrauterine devices (IUDs), for example. But condoms are the only method of birth control that protects people against STIs.
“Given the very high rates of STIs in this age group combined with low rates of condom use, we need to raise awareness among Canadian college and university students about STIs and the need to increase safer sex practices,” said Dr. Alex McKay, executive director of SIECCAN, in a statement.
The survey, which gathered data from more than 1,400 Canadian university students, found 25 per cent of female respondents said they “always” use a condom, compared to 28 per cent of men. Researchers also found 26 per cent of women said they “never” use a condom, compared to 16 per cent of men.
Researchers noted the highest rates of common STIs are among people in this age group.
A gap in education around STIs
Previously speaking with Global News, Nathan Lachowsky, an assistant professor at the University of Victoria, said more research, in general, is needed to explain why so many young people are not using condoms.
“A lot is changing about the ways that Canadians are having sex, but we don’t know why as we don’t have nationally representative surveys like many other nations,” he said.
Sex education plays a huge role in this.
“We can absolutely improve the quality and depth of sex education in schools, which requires both stronger curriculum and implementation,” Lachowsky explained.
“Youth should be learning about condoms and practice how to use them before they are in the moments of having sex with someone else for the first time.”
Samantha Bitty, a Toronto-based sexual health and consent educator, previously told Global News sex education isn’t inclusive, either.
Are people embarrassed to even buy condoms?
While the survey suggests some students were not concerned about getting an STI in general, some experts argue there is still a stigma attached to buying condoms in the first place.
“Anyone who is buying condoms and lube should feel great about making sexually healthy choices,” Lachowsky explained. “As public health, we should also be making condoms, lubricant and other prevention strategies readily available and easily accessible for everyone.”
Universities also offer free condoms to students, either through health, sex or wellness departments. For example, at Concordia University in Montreal, students are encouraged to avoid spending money on condoms and pick up free ones — along with lube and other safe-sex supplies — at several locations on campus.
At the University of British Columbia, students can pick up free condoms at various campus wellness locations if they run out at residences. Along with condoms, Ryerson University in Toronto also offers resources on HIV-AIDS, STIs and even pregnancy options for students.
Numbers say one thing — but communication is key
Previous data from Statistics Canada in 2009 found that 68 per cent of students between the ages of 15 and 24 said they used condoms during the last time they had intercourse, compared to 62 per cent in 2003.
Experts say numbers will always change depending on the population or even the age group, but at the end of the day, Canadians, in general, need to be more comfortable talking about condom use in the bedroom.
“It’s hard to talk about the kinds of sex you want to have and how to prevent passing an STI, but we need to start practising,” Lachowsky said.
“Practice makes perfect. Getting tested for STIs regularly is also a critical part of being a sexually responsible and healthy adult.”