Adolescents engage in early sexual activities at 'alarming' rate

By Thuy An   May 17, 2022 | 08:57 pm PT
Adolescents engage in early sexual activities at 'alarming' rate
Condom products in different colors. Illustration photo by Shutterstock
Tran Vu Mai, 16, was 16 weeks pregnant when she suffered from a uterine perforation and abdominal bleeding following an abortion at a private clinic.

She was recently admitted to the National Hospital of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Hanoi in critical condition.

Dr Phan Chi Thanh of the hospital’s department of examination says patients like Mai could require a hysterectomy and face the risk of no longer being able to have children if not treated promptly.

When Mai and her high school boyfriend discovered she was pregnant, they were both confused and scared, and decided to get an abortion done at an illegal clinic.

But the pregnancy was already too advanced and the procedure was done at an unsanitary facility.

Thanh says many adolescents do not want to get abortions done at public hospitals and so go to unlicensed clinics or do it by themselves at deserted places to prevent others from finding out.

After having sex without a condom at the age of 14, Nguyen Ngoc Ha Mai developed bumps on her body and the doctor diagnosed her as having genital warts, a sexually transmitted disease.

Mai’s boyfriend did not get the disease at first, but, fearful, the two had gone to the doctor without their family members.

He later noticed a few small pimples on his foreskin, was concerned, could not eat or sleep, but did not dare tell his family at first.

He later told them the truth and they took him to a hospital.

"Adolescents are not yet physically or mentally developed, and having sex too soon increases the risk of sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies," Thanh says.

According to a Ministry of Health and World Health Organization study in 2019 on student health behavior, the rate of having sex before the age of 14 more than doubled from 1.45 percent in 2013 to 3.51 percent in 2019.

Only 42 percent of students who had sex used condoms and 44 percent used other birth control methods, both much lower than in 2013.

Thanh points out that the rate of young people engaging in sexual activities is rising at an alarming rate and the true figure may be even higher.

Furthermore, the study only estimated the rate of children who used condoms during their most recent sexual encounter and not earlier times.

A 2020 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found nearly half of all high school students in the country had sex in 2019. It said some 60 percent used a condom the last time they had sex while 14 percent did not use any form of contraception.

Medical experts say young adults have sex early since teenagers’ bodies change every day during puberty due to hormonal activity and children themselves are surprised and curious about their bodies.

Thanh says: "Sex education, protective measures... should be taught to children one to two years ahead of a child's physiological development. For girls it is between six and eight years and for boys it is seven to nine.

"However, in Vietnam, children get sex education later in life, and many families let their children grow up on their own, leaving them surprised, confused and curious."

Western countries begin sex education in preschool and provide children with knowledge that is appropriate for their physical and cognitive development, he says.

In Japan, sex education is provided to students aged 10-11 with an emphasis on topics such as menstruation and ejaculation.

Children in China and Sri Lanka are taught about reproduction in sex education classes.

Since 1942 Sweden has been providing basic knowledge about pregnancy and childbirth to children aged seven and above.

According to Dr. Le Duy Thao of Hong Ngoc General Hospital's department of andrology, most parents do not fully explain or avoid teaching their children about sex.

This leaves children curious but unable to select good information especially in this era of social media.

There have been no studies in Vietnam on the rate of children who discuss sex with their parents and its effectiveness.

In a recent study of 600 people aged 12 to 15 in the U.S., nearly a third said they had never discussed sex with their parents.

Another study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and based on more than 50 studies involving 25,314 adolescents over 30 years, discovered that adolescents who discuss sex with their parents are more likely to use condoms and other preventive measures.

"Sex is not a bad thing," Thao says.

"But it can easily lead to unpredictable consequences for minors who are not equipped with the necessary knowledge."

He says early sex has ramifications. Having unprotected sex or only using condoms increases the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, gonorrhea, syphilis, HPV, and hepatitis B, he warns.

Girls' genitals develop rapidly after puberty, particularly when menstruating. However, Thanh says it takes a long time for the body to perfect the sexual organs to serve pregnancy and motherhood. Early and careless sex can damage the vagina and inflammation of the urethra and vulva leading to psychological disorders, affecting learning outcomes and relationships with family and society.

Girls who have sex without using protection run the risk of becoming pregnant. Premature birth, miscarriage, malnutrition, stress, depression are all more likely in a teen pregnancy than for a woman of reproductive age (18 to 35 years old).

Girls at this age evidently lack money while many hide their pregnancy from their parents, resulting in a lack of sharing, sympathy and emotional support.

Even in the best-case scenario in which both the young mother and the baby are healthy, becoming a mother too soon is a huge burden for people who are not prepared in terms of psychology, life skills or finances.

More dangerously, many young people do not dare go to a proper medical facility and instead risk a lot by going to dubious abortion clinics.

People under 16 are considered children under the 2016 Children's Law, and any act of sex before this age is illegal.

To be on the safe side, doctors advise men not to have sex before 20 and women not before 18, which is also the legal marriage age.

By this time a person’s body is fully grown, and they are prepared physically, psychologically and reproductively to have sex.

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