Teenagers are increasingly delaying having sex until they are older, according to a new HSE study on young people's sexual behaviour.
The study, carried out by the HSE's Crisis Pregnancy Programme, found that 15pc of 18 to 25-year-olds in 2010 said they had not yet had sex, compared to 13pc of the same age group in 2003.
The survey, which spoke to 3,000 adults in 2010 showed that the overall average age of first sex has risen for girls, who on average are waiting until they reach 18.
Professor Hannah McGee, of the Royal College of Surgeons said she was encouraged by the findings, “particularly at a time when teenagers and young people are under increased pressure to become sexually active".
Twenty eight per cent of boys said they had had sex before the age of consent at 17 years, as did 17pc of girls.
According to the report, 89pc of 18 to 25-year-olds used contraception the first time they had sex, with that figure falling to 80pc for 26 to 35-year-olds, and 61pc of 36 to 45-year-olds.
The report also showed that women under 25 who became pregnant were more likely to see it as a “crisis” compared to 2003. Sixty six per cent of women in that age cohort saw getting pregnant as a crisis, compared to 52pc in 2003 were likely to see it as a crisis than in 2003.
Twenty four percent of all women who regarded their pregnancy as a crisis said they were “too young”, compared to 20pc in 2003.
Dr Stephanie O'Keefe, the director of the Crisis Pregnancy Programme, suggested this shift may be linked to cultural changes in the way women see the most desirable age to have a baby.
"The proportion of women reporting pregnancy was a crisis for financial reasons increased from 2pc in 2003 to 9pc in 2010, which is reflective of the economic climate," she said.
The report also showed that parents are playing a lesser role in sex education than in 2003, down 10pc to 72pc. Half of those surveyed received sex education in school only and 32pc both in school and at home.
Just 41pc knew about the 72-hour window in which the morning-after pill (an abortifacient) can be taken effectively. More are also being screened for sexually transmitted diseases, with 20pc of men and 32pc of women tested for infections other than HIV.
Some 14pc of these tests resulted in a positive diagnosis.
Research conducted by the ESRI in 2006 showed that the average age of first sexual intercourse for teenagers was 17. It showed that less than one-third of young adult men (18-24 year olds) and 22 per cent of young women say they had sex before the age of 17.
Responding to those findings at the time, Professor McGee said it was “a myth” that most teenagers were having sexual intercourse at an earlier age.
The findings were part of a campaign by the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, b4udecide, designed to to encourage young people to wait longer before having sex.
The research also showed that nearly a third of teenage girls and eight per cent of boys have come under pressure to have sex before they are ready and that teenagers who do have sex early are more likely to become pregnant and to contract a sexually-transmitted disease.
Apart from the other dangers linked to early sex, “Young people who had sex at an early age were also more likely to express regret – to say that they wished they waited longer,” Prof McGee said.