Less than half of NWT youth who are sexually active reported consistent condom use in the past three months, a sexual health study finds.
Executive director of Fostering Open eXpression among Youth Candice Lys says the study is the first to take a quantitative look at sexual activity and condom use among youth in the NWT.
“A lot of the findings affirmed things that we were already were suspecting, but I think it’s really important we have a study of a reasonably large sample size of over 600 youth.”
The study reviewed surveys from 610 youth between the ages of 13 and 18 from 17 NWT communities including Yellowknife, Behchoko, Hay River and K’atl’odeeche First Nation.
When comparing rural versus Yellowknife, youth in smaller communities had lower rates of condom use. Lys says it is important to look at what resources are available to rural youth.
“One of the things to look at is, are condoms not being used because they’re not available? That’s always a question that we ask. Accessibility in smaller communities, of course, we know can be a challenge.”
Alcohol and drug use is associated with sexual activity and lower likelihood of condom use for NWT youth, the study finds. Lys says her organization approaches this through a harm reduction perspective.
“We try to come from a non-judgemental perspective and meet youth where they’re at. So if they’re choosing to use alcohol and drugs we try to make that safer and if they’re not choosing to we support that.”
A surprising finding for Lys is that boys who are gender diverse report 130 per cent higher rate of condom use than heterosexual boys.
“It is plausible that sexually diverse boys perceive themselves at higher risk for HIV/STI than heterosexual boys and therefore use condoms more frequently and consistently to manage this risk,” the study states.
Girls who reported being sexually diverse were 60 per cent less likely to consistently use condoms compared to heterosexual girls. The findings underscore the need for LGBQ+ safe sex education in NWT schools, the study states.
Lys says with this knowledge in hand, it is now important for all organizations who are reaching youth on sexual health to work together and share the same messaging.