According to a Durex poll released last year, 79 percent of the respondents, who were young Thais, disclosed that they could not find places where they could seek advice on sexual issues.
A study conducted by Nakhon Ratchasima Rajabhat University and released in 2008 indicated that 72.8 percent of the youths surveyed had never sought advice on these issues from persons close to them or who held responsible positions.
Last month, the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH), in collaboration with a number of agencies, officially launched the "Youth and PHA (People living with HIV and Aids in Thailand) Friendly Service" programme (YPFS) to educate youngsters on sexual issues.
The programme is designed to encourage young people to seek information, discuss and obtain advice on sexual issues. This key move is expected to enhance youngsters' understanding of sexual maturity as well as provide them with knowledge that will stand them in good stead against sexually transmitted diseases.
"Over the past few years, we have learned that the group with the highest likelihood of HIV infection is youngsters aged between 15 and 24. Before that period, the most-vulnerable group was made up of persons between 20 and 35 years of age," said Promboon Panitchapakdi, executive director of Raks Thai Foundation, one of the supporters of YPFS. He added that unsafe sexual intercourse accounts for 85 percent of HIV cases.
Through the collaborative efforts of the MOPH and seven organisations, namely the Bureau of Aids, Tuberculosis and Sexually Transmitted Infections; Path; the Duang Prateep Foundation; the Phayao Development Foundation; the Muslim Youth Foundation; the Research Institute and Policy Development Foundation; and Raks Thai Foundation, YPFS centres have been established in 43 provinces. They are located in hospitals, clinics and places easily accessed by youngsters.
Youth and PHA Friendly Service centres are staffed by consultants who provide advice to people aged between 12 and 24.
The consultants are volunteers and medical practitioners with experience in the prevention and primary treatment of sexually transmitted diseases and in the promotion of sexual health and sexual hygiene, among other related disciplines, said Mr Promboon. Their duties include giving personal and group advice over the phone and at organised meetings.
If necessary, YPFS may refer consultees to specialists for treatment. Consultees' personal data are always kept confidential. So far, over 200,000 individuals have used these services.
The centres, which go by a variety of names like Love Care Station, Teen Centre, Teen Talk Centre, Teenage Centre and I-Clinic, also hold events like exhibitions, campaigns and training sessions to disseminate information on sexual issues.
"I've learned more about sex and Aids," said Narongrit Srisutad, 20, who has made use of the YPFS' services. "Previously, I thought that I already knew certain things, but [after talking to the consultants] I realised that I knew nothing," he added.
Narongrit admitted that before he became aware of the YPFS, he usually consulted his friends about sexual issues, and often in amusing ways. He is now a sexual-matters volunteer consultant for the Duang Prateep Foundation.
Mr Promboon suggested that parents and teachers also need to be educated on how to discuss sex with their children and pupils.
"Teachers should be put into a training course that is arranged by a sexuality specialist organisation. It might be a session conducted over the weekend," he recommended, adding that not only teachers who teach health education need to attend, but that all other teachers, regardless of what subjects they teach, should undergo such training.
"You don't know when students will come up and ask [about sex]," he said.
Visitwww.teentalksex.org for locations of YPFS centres and professional information on sex issues. The website is in Thai.