Sat, Sep 26, 2015 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: World Contraception Day

Today is World Contraception Day, a day not usually marked by the government, which is more concerned about raising the nation’s birth rate.

However, while Taiwan’s birth rate has for years been one of the lowest in the world — an estimated 1.11 children per woman last year — attention needs to be paid to contraception as a public health issue and a social one.

The Taiwan Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology on Wednesday did its part by releasing the results of its latest survey on sexual activity and contraceptive use by university freshmen. The results were not inspiring.

While only 16 percent of respondents said they had had sexual intercourse, only 10 percent said they used contraception because the intercourse “happened too suddenly.”

Taiwan is considered to have one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Asia, the abortion rate for unmarried teens in Taiwan remains at about 4.8 percent (according to Ministry of the Interior statistics) and doctors have been prescribing tens of thousands of the RU-486 “abortion” pills annually since it became legal to do so in January 2001 – all of which suggests that current methods of promoting contraceptive use are not working as well as they should.

More must be done to address contraception as part of basic sex education. The doctors discussing the association’s findings said that four common mistakes among young people’s efforts at contraception were miscalculating the “safe” period for sexual activity, misusing condoms, misconceptions about contraceptive pills and misuse of emergency measures.

That Taiwan still has a long way to go in its sex education efforts was highlighted last month by Taiwan Women’s Link, which said the materials for high-school health education contained misleading information, were influenced by religious dogma and were rife with gender stereotypes, stigmatization of homosexuality and prejudice against premarital sex.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is concerned with the increase in gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV. A survey conducted last year on Taiwanese men aged between 15 and 49 found that 46.3 percent of those with multiple partners did not use protection in their most recent sexual encounters, compared with 44.2 percent of respondents overall.

A separate CDC survey in December last year found that of the 70 percent of the men who said that they visited an “adult entertainment establishment” and paid for sex, 30 percent said they did not use protection. It is clear that it is not just teenagers who need more information about contraceptive use.

However, one of the biggest barriers to improved contraceptive use in Taiwan remains the government, since under the National Health Insurance program birth control pills and contraceptive devices are considered “elective items,” along with morning-after pills, which women must pay for separately. Also, teenaged girls seeking a prescription for birth control must have a parent accompany them.

Still, the medical profession is trying to address some of the issues. The Taiwan Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology has a Web site that provides counseling for teens about contraception and sex education, as well as a free 24-hour hotline that provides professional counseling.

Contraception is not just about preventing births and it is not just a female issue. It is about preventing the spread of STDs, and avoiding the health and social/financial consequences of an unwanted pregnancy. Providing accurate sex education, including contraceptive use, allows young people – and older ones too – to make informed choices.

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