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Drug use by Europe’s young people leads to risky sexual behaviour

High levels of alcohol and drug consumption by young people in Europe is leading to an increase in unsafe sexual practices and a consequent rise in sexually-transmitted disease infections, according to a recently published study by the European Institute of Studies on Prevention (IREFREA).

A recent international study has shown that high levels of alcohol and drug consumption among Europe’s young people could affect their decision making and chances of indulging in risky sexual behaviour, as well as having sexual experiences that they later come to regret.

The researchers, using respondent driven sampling (RDS) methodology, carried out a survey in nine cities throughout nine European countries (Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom). In total they interviewed 1,341 young people aged between 16 and 35 who regularly go out to enjoy themselves at night.

Montse Juan, one of the Spanish researchers taking part in the study and a member of the IREFREA, said: “Substance abuse varies significantly depending upon the purpose for which these are used. For example, 28.6% of those drinking alcohol do so to help them get to know a potential sexual partner while 26.2% of those using cocaine take it to make sexual intercourse last longer.”

The scientists found a link between drug consumption and the early onset of sexual experimentation. “Those who consume alcohol, cannabis, cocaine or ecstasy under the age of 16 are likely to have had sexual relations before this age too,” the researcher told SINC. The study shows that early sexual activity is most common among females.

The researchers have also found demographic variations in terms of the reasons for the use of different drugs, with higher levels of ecstasy consumption among males to prolong the sexual experience and higher use of cocaine by men to increase sexual excitement and increase sensation.

“The current patterns of drug use among the study participants reflect their number of sexual partners, with regular cocaine users (in comparison with those who have never taken it) being five times more likely to have had five or more sexual partners within the last 12 months, or to have paid for sex,” added Juan.

Prevention is better than cure

In terms of the possible practical results of the study, the Spanish researcher told SINC it was clear that “prevention experts must be aware of how young people view the relationship between drug use and sexuality. There are very few preventive programmes in our country that take this link into consideration.”

Despite sexual education programmes that are being developed today, principally for high risk groups, the experts say that most of those who relate drugs with sexuality are “normal” teenagers and young people.

“Now that we are aware of this link and the associated health risks, new programmes and preventive strategies will be needed, in addition to further research in the area of drug use and its social, psychological and physical links to sexuality, based on the real and important experiences of young people themselves,” Juan concluded.

To date there have been only a limited number of studies into the link between sex and drug abuse, and specifically into the reasons for which young people use these substances as ‘facilitators’ in sexual activity.

| alfa
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