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Irish Times, August 28, 2007

One in five Irish men fail to use condoms

By Barry Roche,

Irish men are engaging in risky sexual behaviour with one in five never using a condom when having sex with a casual partner, a new survey has found.

Published yesterday by the Health Service Executive (HSE) South, the survey also found that Irish men have a low awareness of sexual health services. Some 87 per cent of men said they knew GPs provided sexual health services but their level of awareness of all other service providers was very poor.

The survey, Men's Use of Sexual Health Services was carried out among almost 800 men aged between 18 and 45 years in work places and further education centres throughout Cork and Kerry.

It found that fewer than one in four men attend a GP for sexual health reasons and fewer than 10 per cent attend other sexual health services.

Linda Hogan, HSE South health promotion manager, said the primary barriers to availing of services included lack of awareness, with 46-57 per cent of men not knowing where to access various sexual health services.

"The awareness of service providers apart from GPs was poor - just 13 per cent knew about gay/bisexual organisations, 18 per cent knew about rape/sexual assault services, 27 per cent knew about crisis pregnancy services, 28 per cent knew about STI (sexually transmitted infection) clinics and 40 per cent about family planning clinics," she said.

"One third of men reported a high level of embarrassment at the thought of attending services and this was higher in older men," she added.

The survey also found that the cost of attending sexual health service centres and the gender of the staff working there were factors which prohibited men from using them. "Testicular examinations and STI screening were the main reasons identified for service usage. For those that did avail of services, they reported a high level of satisfaction and thought that services catered well for men," Ms Hogan said.

The researchers also looked at men's sexual health practices and found that almost 20 per cent of men never use a condom when engaging in vaginal sex with a casual partner.

They also found 90 per cent of men never use a condom when receiving oral sex with a casual partner and 42 per cent of men never use a condom when engaging in anal sex with a casual partner.

Some 40 per cent of men acknowledged that drink and drugs impacted negatively on their use of condoms, while some 25 per cent of men reported that the cost of condoms was prohibitive.

Dr Maria O'Brien, the health promotion researcher behind the survey, has recommended the development of a national sexual health strategy and the implementation of appropriate and targeted sex education for both boys and girls inside and outside of school.

Her study, funded by the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, also recommends the provision of appropriate and targeted sexual health services for men.

HSE South, in response to the study's findings, has prepared a special "Men at Work" package which it will distribute to building sites throughout Cork and Kerry via mobile units set up by the Construction Workers Health Trust which is affiliated to the ICTU.

The pack, which is available in English, Polish and Russian, includes two free condoms and information on sexual health services. It also includes tips on testicular self examination as testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in men aged 15-34 years.

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