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As Valentine's Day Approaches Health Experts Win Grant to Boost Safe Sex

Every year February 14th is celebrated as a day for love, exchange of gifts and promises of passion. But without appropriate education young love can lead to risky behaviour, one night stands, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)and unwanted teenage pregnancies.

To help increase levels of safe sex, Coventry University’s Applied Research Centre in Health and Lifestyle Interventions recently won a £7500 grant from The British Academy to research current sex education practice and to examine why there is an intention-behaviour gap for contraceptive use amongst 13-18 year-olds.

Although many teenagers hold strong intentions to use contraception, many fail to consistently act on these intentions. Past research has shown that whilst 85% of adolescent condom users reported high intentions to use contraception, only 53% had actually used contraception on every occasion of intercourse in the previous 6 months. In turn, teenagers need help to translate their intentions into action and boost consistent and effective contraceptive use.

The research at Coventry University will be the first project to investigate the best way to increase teenage contraceptive use by helping teenagers translate what they already intend to do into action.

Effective ways of helping translate intentions into action include prompting people to form ‘If-then’ plans. These take the form of ‘If situation x happens, then I will do y’.This approach has improved the uptake of other health behaviours, such as breast self-examination.

‘If-then’ plans help prevent people from forgetting about intentions, help people to deal with other intentions which may compete with healthy ones, and to plan effectively to carry out their intended behaviour. ‘If-then’ plans work because they are linked to environmental cues that can help behaviour to become automatic.

The research will gather feedback from sexual health practitioners and adolescents on:

*what kinds of competing goals and intentions prevent good intentions being carried out when contraception has been planned and is available

*educational materials designed to combat issues of forgetting and insufficient planning of contraceptive use

‘If-then’ plans could be applied to improving use of methods such as the contraceptive pill and can be adapted for methods such as condom use. But because of the problems of specifying a time and place when sex will next occur, using cues such as behaviours that anticipate intercourse, like kissing, can be used to help put intention into practice.

Dr Katherine Brown, from Coventry University’s Applied Research Centre in Health and Lifestyle Interventions, said: “The UK has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe and extremely high rates of STIs. Current intervention strategies are not having enough of an effect. Our aim is to develop intervention materials that can be used easily in educational settings that have a real impact on behaviour. The new grant will help us to develop further insights into how to boost contraceptive use and to develop materials to stop young people from simply thinking about safe sex, and to start changing good intentions into action.”

Jenny Murray | alfa
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