Singapore‘s Department of STI Control has reported that the number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among teenagers is set to hit another high this year. According to a Sunday Times report today, the reported figures grew from 238 in 2002, to 678 in 2005, to 775 in 2006 and is likely to have hit 815 in 2007. In the 1980s and 1990s, numbers hovered around just 250 cases a year.
Teenage pregnancy figures also increased from 731 in 2003 to 838 in 2006.
Youth counsellor Haji Md Yusof Ismail from Ain Society observed that teenage sex in recent years has evolved from sex with single partners for love, to sex with multiple partners to fulfill purely physical desires.
The Internet has been blamed for the increase in sexual activity among teens.
While it cannot be denied that Internet pornography and chatrooms played a part in this shift in behaviour, it is foolish to pin the Net as the primary culprit. We need to question why teenagers are increasingly seeking love and acceptance through engaging in sexual activity at such a young age.
It’s not about banning kids from using the Internet. Neither would pummeling them with lessons about values and morality help much. Scaring them with “gross” pictures of infected genitals will be as effective as anti-smoking ads — if these kids don’t love themselves, why would they care what harm they are doing against their bodies.
Perhaps if we dive into the mind of teenagers who engage in this sort of behaviour, we would find that many do this because they lack the self-confidence to say “no”. They may think that having sex is a way to gain love, affirmation and acceptance from peers, because they feel they don’t get it from their parents, siblings, teachers and society in general.
I feel this is an issue that needs to be tackled at its roots. Heal the heart and soul of these hurting youngsters, and their outward behaviour will fall in place. It will take a concerted effort of parents, religious organisations, social service organisations, schools and the government to turn this worrying trend around.
But no need in our society is more pressing than protecting the destiny of our young people.
The Sunday Times, 6 Apr 08
Teen sex infections likely to hit new high
Most teenage boys get gonorrhoea and girls chlamydia, and some having sex at 12
By Teo Cheng Wee
The number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among teenagers is set to hit another high this year, said the Department of STI Control (DSC).
The figure had been steadily increasing in recent years. Starting from a low of 238 cases reported to the department in 2002, it grew to 678 cases in 2005, 775 in 2006 and 657 in the first nine months of last year .
Although the full figures for last year are not available yet, DSC clinic head Tan Hiok Hee estimated that numbers had grown by another 3 to 5 per cent. This means the final tally would be in the region of 800 to 815.
In comparison, STI figures for the general population have stayed relatively constant at around 11,000 from 2004 to 2006.
Dr Tan pointed out that the last time teenage STI rates were this high was in the late 1970s. In the 1980s and 1990s, numbers declined and hovered around 250 cases a year.
‘But after 2002, the numbers have really increased,’ he said.
Teenage pregnancy figures – which have increased from 731 in 2003 to 838 in 2006 – are another indicator that more young people are having unprotected sex.
Such statistics have led to teenage STI being identified as a ‘pressing matter’ by a Health Ministry committee on adolescent health issues. Dr Tan, who sits on the committee, said the panel recently completed its report and is due to submit it to the ministry.
The top two STIs reported here are chlamydia for girls and gonorrhoea for boys. The two infections account for more than half of all STIs in teenagers. These are also the most common STIs in adults.
Last year, the youngest patients who sought help at the DSC clinic in Kelantan Lane were three 14-year-old girls, for gonorrhoea and chlamydia. Some of these youth were already sexually active at the age of 12.
Most of the time, teenagers either visit the clinic alone or with their friends. They usually come forward because they are showing symptoms like a discharge, sores or painful blisters.
Girls are more likely to be infected, with the number of girls being twice that of the boys.
Dr Tan explained that this is because girls usually attain sexual maturity earlier and are more susceptible to certain infections such as chlamydia.
Girls also tend to have older partners, who are more sexually experienced and tend to have more partners as well.
The reactions of parents and teens, upon finding out that the latter have STI, have been varied, said Dr Tan.
He recounted one 15-year-old boy with gonorrhoea who visited the clinic with his mother. She scolded him in the consultation room, pulled his ear and said he deserved the pain he was in because of his immoral behaviour.
On the other hand, the mother of a 16-year-old boy with anal warts had a frank discussion with her son on STIs and risky activities and stayed calm and non-judgmental, he recalled.
Youth counsellors and doctors point to the influence of cyberspace as one possible cause for the trend, noting that the increasing numbers have coincided with the advent of the Internet.
With pornography readily available online, teens not only get more used to the idea of sex, but they also learn at a young age how to do it.
Said youth counsellor Haji Md Yusof Ismail, who works at voluntary welfare organisation Ain Society: ‘They are also thinking: If celebrities like Edison Chen are doing it, why can’t we?’
Some teenagers also contracted STIs after they hooked up with strangers on online chatrooms and forums.
Haji Yusof observed that teenage sex in recent years has evolved from sex with single partners for love, to sex with multiple partners for pure physical needs.
Dr Carol Balhetchet, director of youth services at the Singapore Children’s Society, has also noticed a mindset shift in teenagers in the last five years.
‘Gone are the days when virginity is pure. It is now cool to have sex,’ she said. ‘When they have unprotected sex, they don’t see it as risky behaviour – they think it’s natural and pure.’
When contacted, the Ministry of Education told The Sunday Times that it is already involving the home, school and community to tackle the problem, including training teachers to engage better with both students and parents on the subject of sex.
Haji Yusof said: ‘It’s a challenging problem, no doubt, and I feel that it’s an uphill task battling changing societal norms. But there is no magic pill. We have to continue working hard to solve the problem.’