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THL: One fifth of teens ignore contraception, HPV vaccines down

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare said young students want cheaper birth control.

Teens demand free condoms. Image: Mikko Koski / Yle

According to the School Health Promotion study (siirryt toiseen palveluun) by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), about 20 percent of teens had not used any form of contraception in their most recent sexual encounter. Boys are more likely than girls to forgo birth control during intercourse.

"That's far too many children, the news is alarming," youth sexuality professional Maria Nikunlaakso from the Family Federation of Finland (siirryt toiseen palveluun) said. "But I'm not entirely surprised."

The Family Federation launched a contraceptive awareness campaign called Kumita (siirryt toiseen palveluun) in early September. Their survey shows results similar to the THL's findings: one in three teens in the eighth grade of Finland's comprehensive school system said they do not use condoms at all during sexual intercourse.

Nikunlaakso said that many reasons, including shame, can affect a young person's motivation to properly use and understand birth control.

"Lack of information is a big part of it, and it means that the education system has failed many children. If a condom has not been acquired in advance, contraception is easy to forget. Other teens may feel that their body does not have worth," Nikunlaakso said.

Image: AOP

Sexual education should be improved and increased, she said, and sex should not be a taboo subject in any household.

Schools and teachers play a crucial role, Nikunlaakso said.

"Teachers should be prepared to discuss any and all sexual matters that a student comes to them with. The teens get proper information, and it is proven to help them take better care of themselves – and there is no evidence that sex ed makes children start sexually active lives earlier than usual."

Nikunlaakso said that even though the average age of a teen's first experience of sexual intercourse is around 17 years, many young people assume their peers become active much earlier.

The Family Federation of Finland launched another campaign on Monday, called Mun Valinta ("my choice") (siirryt toiseen palveluun), this year the theme of which is "my first time", including topics such as sexual anxiety and verbal consent. The federation offers videos, articles, quizzes and opportunities to directly contact sexual health professionals.

Teens demand condoms be cheap or free

The THL's School Health Promotion survey found that about 20 percent of 8th and 9th graders said they needed contraception to be cheaper – even more responded they wanted condoms to be free of charge.

About 50 Finnish municipalities currently offer free contraception, under varying conditions.

The Family Federation has for years provided schools with condoms to pass along to 8th grade students around the country. Nikunlaakso said that depending on the school, the boxes of jimmies may be distributed to the teens or simply forgotten on a shelf.

"It's most important that teens at least get their hands on condoms as easily as possible, whether or not they blow them up into balloons."

Regional dips in HPV vaccinations

A vaccination against the human papilloma virus (HPV) is available to teenage girls in Finland, but far fewer girls in some regions are getting vaccinated than in others, the THL's vaccination register shows.

Nationwide about 70 percent of 13-year-old girls have been vaccinated against HPV, a virus which is known to cause cancer of the cervix, penis, anus, head and neck area. In the Ostrobothnian region in Central Finland, the proportion of girls vaccinated is just 57 percent.

Swedish-speaking regions of Pohjanmaa were found to have the most antipathies toward vaccinations. In the health district of Pietarsaari, only 44 percent of 13-year-old girls had gotten the HPV shot.

Infectious disease specialist Kimmo Kuisma from the Malmska hospital in Jakobstad said that old taboos about sex still live on.

"Some of the older people here find the subject to be delicate and emotional, because it has to do with sexual health. I'm not surprised, as there is always some pushback to new vaccines. Time and proper education will win out," Kuisma said.

The HPV vaccine was introduced into the national vaccination programme in 2013. The shot is administered to girls aged 11-12.

The Ministry of Finance included the proposal in its budget that young boys also be vaccinated against HPV starting in autumn 2020. Parliament will decide on the new budget in December.

The HPV vaccine is administered as a series of three injections. Starting this autumn the shots will be given to children in the 5th grade, while previously 6th graders were the youngest to receive immunity.