Three organizations are teaming up to reach out through the Internet in an effort to reduce the risk of STDs and unplanned pregnancies to youth across Costa Rica, who typically know little about such reproductive health issues.
The Costa Rican Demographic Association (ADC), the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (ACNUR) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) have launched an online campaign to answer any inquiries youth of Costa Rica might have pertaining to sexual relations.
“Our aim is to create products that inform young people where they can exercise their right to information, and get answers to questions they didn’t even know they needed to ask,” said Luis Ramírez, president of ADC.
The National Youth Council (CPJ) reported in its 2008 National Youth Survey that 76.1 percent of Costa Rican teenagers between the ages of 15 and 24 years old have had sexual relations. Of that 76.1 percent, only 32.5 percent of women and 70.3 percent of men said they used condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy.
The campaign has created a Web site, www.adc-cr.org/conectate, where common questions and misconceptions are addressed. It offers explanations about sexually transmitted diseases, different types of contraception and other topics teens rarely have an opportunity to discuss with experts, such as sensitive topics like masturbation and orgasms.
The campaign has attempted to make the Web site address and questions as available as possible, while maintaining discretion by putting the information on the Internet.
Visitors to the site can anonymously ask other or more specific questions, and a group of experts from ADC will send them answers.
To direct youth to the Web site, they have distributed mouse pads and posters to 22 internet cafés throughout Costa Rica.
Each pad asks “¿Tenés Dudas?” (Do you have questions?). In all, the mouse pads appear in six different quirky designs with two to three questions each, as well as a link to the project’s Web site.
Levels of HIV and AIDS are low in Costa Rica compared with under-developed nations. According to the Web site www. globalhealthfacts.org, some 9,700 people in Costa Rica have the virus, or just 0.23 percent of the population, compared to 30 percent in parts of southern Africa (TT, Feb. 27).
Nonetheless, to highlight what is perhaps the greater problem, Ramírez compared the amount of teen pregnancies in Costa Rica to those in Spain. That country, with a population of approximately 40 million, has around 19,000 teen pregnancies per year, while Costa Rica, with a population of just over 4 million, sees about 14,000 per year.
Unlike many developed countries, Costa Rica doesn’t address or teach sex education in public schools, leaving sexual education to parents or peers. Although plans to implement such programs in public schools have been circulating for years, and the Education Ministry aimed to implement a program this year, so far nothing has materialized.
Just recently President Oscar Arias renewed calls for sexual education, a position that has long met with resistance from the Catholic Church and many parents (TT, Feb. 27).“We have to talk seriously about education, and even more seriously about sexual education, without blushing or concealment, without qualms or biases,” Arias said.
Alejandra Vega, an ADC lawyer, agrees that sex is an issue often swept under the rug. “I think I lot of teenagers in Costa Rica are embarrassed to ask the questions they want to know,” said Vega. “The theme of sexual relations here is full of myths and no access to real answers.”
Vega said they haven’t had any resistance from the Catholic Church or others so far, although the campaign has just begun.