By Patricia Mirasol, Reporter 

ONLY a third of Filipino youth aged 15-24 years have an awareness of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and emergency contraceptive (EC) pills, according to the fifth iteration of the Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality  study (YAFS5) conducted by the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI). The percentage of those with a comprehensive knowledge of the human immunocompromised virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) was also below 20%, the study also found. 

Awareness of STIs was at 35% among males and 34% among females in 2021. Awareness of HIV and/or AIDS, meanwhile, was 74% among males and 78% females for the same year, a decrease from 82% and 85% in 2013, respectively, or when the fourth round of YAFS was conducted.   

This is a growing trend, said Christian Joy P. Cruz, UPPI associate professor, in an Oct. 14 dissemination forum of the study. She noted that the second YAFS study in 1994 showed that awareness of HIV and/or AIDS was 95% for both sexes.  

The study further reported that more than half (52%) of Filipino youths believed that a person can get HIV by sharing food with someone who is infected. About a quarter (24%) likewise believed a person can get HIV from mosquito bites. 

“Sex is still apparently a taboo topic at home,” said UPPI associate professor Maria Paz N. Marquez, who presented at the same event. Only 12% among males, and 13% among females, had discussions at home about sex in 2021.  

“What is increasing is those consulting no one,” Ms. Marquez added. Thirty-three percent of males and 23% of females did not consult anyone about sex, up from 24% and 20%, respectively. 

For males that did consult others, however, friends are the top choice (40% in 2021, down from 50% in 2013). Females, on the other hand, preferred both their mother (39% in 2021, down from 43% in 2013) and friends (22% in 2021 from, down from 26% in 2013).  

A majority (68% of males and 58% of females) used protection during sexual initiation.   

“Condoms and the withdrawal method were more commonly used, given that a [majority] of the sexual initiation was not planned but happened anyway,” Ms. Marquez told the event audience.  Over a quarter (28%) of males and a third (32%) of females did not plan their sexual initiation when it happened. Moreover, 17% of males and 18% of females did not want it to happen, but went along with it.  

A new inclusion in the fifth YAFS was the question on EC pills. The study found that — although awareness of this contraception option is low — 31% of males and 24% of females would consider using it if it was made available.   

A majority got their male condoms at drugstores (77%). Only 3% bought them at online shopping platforms. Nearly one-tenth (11% among males; 3% among females) said they always carried a condom with them.  

YAFS5 commenced in August 2021 and was completed in January 2022. Covering 17 regions, the study approached 10,949 youth from 974 sample barangays. It contains 14 major topics, including those about puberty, dating, sex, lifestyle, health, and media.  

The study proponents took measures to ensure the respondents’ forthrightness, Ms. Marquez said.  

“One of these measures was for the female respondents to be interviewed with female interviewers — same with the males — para ma-minimize ’yung hiyaan [so embarrassment is minimized],” she said. Sealed questionnaires were also provided for 10 questions pertaining to sensitive subjects such as abortion and illegal drug use.  

“We compared the answers from the sealed questionnaires [versus] the answers they gave in the face-to-face interviews, and hindi nagkakalayo ang answers [the answers are consistent],” she said.   

The hope is that there will be a convergence among policy makers and those in congress, said Grace T. Cruz, UPPI professor.   

“The whole idea of why we’re in the business of data gathering,” she said at the Oct. 14 forum, is so the data could be “used as a scientific basis for the formulation of appropriate policies for the welfare of young people.”

The YAFS5 report will be available in 2023. The UPPI said it is “targeting to release the raw data by the middle of 2023.” Previous YAFS studies were conducted in 1982, 1994, 2002, and 2013.