Image credit: iStock/AmmentorpDK Image credit: iStock/AmmentorpDK

Under half of 17 to 18-year-olds in Ireland are sexually active, according to new research. The Growing Up in Ireland survey from the Economic and Social Research institute (ESRI) found that 40 per cent of youngsters have engaged in oral sex while 33 per cent have had intercourse.

It seems that more people who identify as male were sexually active compared to females, with 45 per cent and 39 per cent, respectively.

Of those who reported that they were sexually active, over half (56 per cent) said they always used a condom. However, a worrying number (11 per cent) admitted to never using one, putting them at risk of STIs and unwanted pregnancy.

Some 79 per cent of those who had had sexual intercourse said that they or their partner used some sort of contraception, but six per cent admitted to never or hardly ever using any.

When it came to feeling ready to have sex, 13 per cent said that they did feel a little pressure. A small amount (four per cent) admitted to feeling a lot of pressure to have sex. One of the reasons for people feeling pressured was concern over losing a partner if they didn't, with six per cent citing this as a reason.

As well as questions about sex, the survey also asked about other aspects of growing up. It found that 89 per cent of teenagers had drunk alcohol, although just six per cent said they drank two or three times a week, which is still fairly worrying.

It was also found that more than half (51 per cent) had never smoked and 69 per cent had not tried cannabis.

James Williams, research professor at ESRI, said: "The importance of the Growing Up in Ireland study is that it provides very detailed and often sensitive information from nationally representative samples of children in order to highlight the areas of young people’s lives where they most need support."