How comfortable are young people when it comes to talking about sex? Are they using condoms? And do they worry about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections?

MTV Knowing Youth asked these questions recently, as part of Someone Like Me, an initiative between MTV and Durex to help people talk more openly, honestly, and positively about sex. The project consisted of a May 2014 online survey of more than 1,600 people 16 to 24 in six European countries (UK, Germany, France, Poland, Italy, and Spain).

Here are key findings from this analysis:

The topic of sex generates a sense of embarrassment among young people.

  • 3 out of 4 have some level of embarrassment when it comes to talking about sex; only 25% say they’re completely comfortable talking about it
  • Close to half say they’re ‘quite comfortable, but sometimes they get embarrassed’

Discussions about sex mostly happen among friends.

  • 72% talk about sex with friends, followed by partners (65%), family (43%), and online (24%)
  • Among friends, the most common topics are ‘gossiping about other people’s sex lives,’ ‘losing one’s virginity,’ and ‘number of sexual partners’
  • Females are driving the conversation around sex, and their most frequent topics are pregnancy and female contraception
  • The most common topics among males are sexual positions, using condoms, and orgasms
  • STIs and HIV/AIDS are least talked about among males and females
  • 2 out of 3 seek out information about sex online, with advice/sexual tips, sexual positions, STIs/HIV/AIDS, and female contraception as the most common searches

Sex education gets mixed reviews that skew more negative than positive.

  • When asked their opinions on the sex education they’ve received, the main negative associations were ‘limited’ (37%), ‘awkward’ (34%), ‘functional’ (33%), ‘old-fashioned’ (27%), and ‘boring’ (22%)
  • The positive associations were ‘useful’ (44%), ‘honest’ (36%), ‘relevant’ (34%), ‘fun’ (21%), and ‘inspiring’ (11%)
  • Net negative associations were 83%, while net positive associations came to 77%

There is embarrassment and a lack of responsibility when it comes to using and buying condoms.

  • Just 6 in 10 report using condoms (among the 78% who say they’re sexually active)
  • 1 in 5 carry a condom when they go out, and 1 in 10 use no contraception at all
  • 4 in 10 admit to having had sex with more than one person without using a condom
  • Lack of planning is an issue, with 61% agreeing that they don’t usually think about condoms until they need one (more common among males than females)
  • 37% say they’re too embarrassed to buy condoms (also more common among females)
  • There is a growing reliance on asking new partners about their sexual history and getting tested for STIs

A worrying gender-based trend around carrying condoms also exists.

  •   56% agree that it’s the man’s responsibility to carry a condom
  • 48% agree that if a woman carries a condom she’s considered ‘up for it’
  • Both attitudes are driven by both genders (but more by males than females), and have grown since 2008

Young people are concerned about HIV/AIDS, but mostly see it as someone else’s problem.

  • They cite HIV/AIDS as their biggest worry around sex (46%)—far ahead of the next most common concern, pregnancy (24%)
  • But there’s a significant trend towards feeling that HIV/AIDS isn’t relevant to them– just under half (47%) believe ‘HIV/AIDS isn’t something that would happen within my group of friends’ (compared with 32% in 2008)
  • There is generally less concern about the risk of HIV/AIDS in Northern Europe than in Southern Europe
  • 1 in 4 think it’s a problem that mostly affects people in Africa
  • 9 in 10 agree that we all have a responsibility to tackle HIV/AIDS, but confidence in ‘our’ ability to eradicate it is relatively low… only 55% believe that the world will be free from HIV/AIDS one day

How to help young people in the world of sex: encourage them to open up, educate without alienating, reduce shame about condoms, and increase awareness about STIs and HIV/AIDS.  

  • Enable them to feel more comfortable talking about it… especially males.
  • Give them an educational service that is inspiring and fun
  • Reduce/eradicate feelings of embarrassment around condoms and make them more top of mind
  • Destroy dangerous attitudes around gender roles
  • Raise the ‘profile’ of STIs and make youth more aware of HIV/AIDS as a risk for everyone