Sex survey aims to improve campus health services

Findings will shed light on student health issues

This story has been updated since initially published.

Students enter Dalhousie Health Services center on Coburg Road. Photo: Jessica Emin

Students at eight Maritime universities were invited to participate in a survey that aims to assess sexual health and sexual health services at the institutions.

The survey asks questions about sexual orientation, sexual activity, STIs, sexual health knowledge, depression and student health services, to name a few.

The survey’s principal investigators are two professors from Dalhousie. Dr. Audrey Steenbeek is from the faculty of nursing and Dr. Donald Langille from the faculty of medicine. Their project aims to improve health services at Dalhousie and other universities.

Steenbeek specializes in Aboriginal health and epidemiology. Langille is an expert in adolescent sexual health issues. The survey and research is being funded by Canadian Institute of Health Research.

They are working with the universities to make changes in health services based on their findings.

Christina Holmes, the research co-ordinator of the project, says 6,155 people at Dal and King’s began the survey, but only 4,520 completed it. An incomplete survey could mean they stopped halfway or they skipped some questions.

The researchers emailed a total of 14,336 invitations to take the survey. Dalhousie and King’s undergraduate students participated in the survey with the incentive of possibly winning an iPad.

The focus in the survey was on heterosexual orientation because they are the majority at the universities, says Steenbeek.

She says to create a survey that would cater to all sexual orientations could have made the survey much longer and could diminish the number of respondents and completed surveys.

“Heterosexuals often have the highest risk factor” because they are often having vaginal intercourse and as such there is more likelihood of contracting an STI, says Steenbeek.

Holmes and Steenbeek agree that no survey is perfect and they try to be as inclusive as possible.

There were a few problems with the online delivery of the survey, she says. For example, one question asking if the participant had ever had vaginal intercourse, if answered with a no, was supposed to prompt questions about anal and oral sex, but didn’t at Dalhousie and King’s.

The problem was fixed for the surveys at other universities.

Holmes said it will be interesting to see how fixing the survey affects their data when comparing Dalhousie to the other seven participating schools.

The Health Services clinic provides many services to the Dalhousie community, including birth control consulting, emergency contraception, STI testing, pregnancy testing and HIV testing. Photo: Jessica Emin

Sexual health is a big concern for young people, says Steenbeek, and the age group of 25 and under are at the biggest risk.

In the last few years chlamydia has been on the rise in Halifax. In 2011 the infection rate of the STI was 30 per cent higher than the national average.

“[The university’s] goal is to have healthy students,” says Steenbeek.

They hope the information gathered from the survey will be processed and applied to services at the school within the next two years.

It will be about two years before all the information is processed and applied.

The survey is still available to be completed by Dal and King’s students.


Update: Nov. 20, 2012: A correction was made. The organization funding the research was not the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation, but the Canadian Institute of Health Research.