According to a new national survey almost a quarter of sexually active Canadian teens between the ages of 14 and 17 have unprotected sex and 68 per cent have oral sex, although many are unaware that STIs can be transmitted through this particular sexual activity.
Dr. Jean-Yves Frappier, the president of the Canadian Association for Adolescent Health (CAAH), a paediatrician and Head of the Adolescent Division at Sainte-Justine Hospital in Montreal, says the study aimed to find out whether teenagers needed more information on sex and sexual health, and to find ways to provide the needed information.
The survey revealed that Canada's half million sexually active teens between the ages of 14 and 17 have usually had three sexual partners on average and 38 per cent of them engage in casual sex.
Another 16 per cent admit that their partner had other sexual partners while dating them, while half of condom users never check to see if their condoms remain intact after sex.
Yet it appears that 90 per cent of Canadian teens claim to be very or somewhat knowledgeable about sex and sexual health.
This claim was not supported by the survey which also found a widespread lack of knowledge of the most common sexually transmitted infection HPV, the cause of genital warts and cervical cancer.
They also appeared to be unaware of the consequences of STIs. This lack of knowledge was attributed to the difficulties in obtaining sexual health information.
Some 62 per cent said they faced obstacles to getting answers on sexual health, such as their own discomfort in talking about sex and few felt sex education in schools was useful.
Actual language used also presents problems and it seems that 22 per cent of Canadian teens and 30 per cent of mothers include mutual masturbation in their definition of "sexual intercourse", while 'sexual abstinence' for 26 per cent of teens includes practising oral sex.
Parents appear to be the role models when it comes to sex, rather than movies, music, sport and TV stars.
They are also considered a major source of information on sex and sexual health by their teenagers (63 per cent) and nearly half (43 per cent) consider their parents to be the most useful and valuable source of information.
Dr. Miriam Kaufman, a CAAH spokesperson and paediatrician at the Adolescent Division at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, says one of the most surprising results of the study was how parents underestimate their importance and the role teens expect them to play when it comes to their sexuality and sexual health.
The survey was based on 1,171 online interviews conducted nationally with teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17, and 1,139 online interviews with mothers of teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17.
The survey was conducted on behalf of the Canadian Association for Adolescent Health by Ipsos and supported by Merck Frosst Canada.