“Are you dense?”

Among young people, “dense” translates into a failure to comprehend (“ride on”) a conversation or to be sensitive to nuances in a relationship or situation.

According to the 2021 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study (YAFS5) preliminary findings presented during the Oct. 14 YAFS5 National Dissemination Forum held at a hotel in North Edsa, “dense” also describes the transitions a person undergoes from childhood to adulthood.

Conducted for the fifth year by the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI) and the Demographic Research and Development Foundation Inc., the YAFS5 surfaces key findings that profile a sample representing about 20.2 million Filipinos aged 15-24 years, comprising 18 percent of the national population in 2021.

Disaggregated into 9.8 million female youths and 10.3 million youth, these young Filipinos undergo many life-changing transitions during the ages of 15-24 years.

These milestones — the first romance, teen marriage, premarital or early pregnancy, dropping out of school — affect their adult lives and that of their children.

Thus, for the future of the youths, their families and communities, the UPPI advocates for the examination of their status during this “dense” period and the drawing up of lessons for “key areas to ensure better health and well-being” of the “Kabataang Pinoy (Filipino youth)”.

Adding to the significance of the YAFS5 is that this is the first in the series that conducted field data-gathering during the pandemic. The YAFS was first implemented in 1982, followed by 1994, 2002 and 2013.

The community lockdowns and shift from face-to-face to remote or blended learning drastically disrupted the practices and rituals young Filipinos expected to undergo. Limited socialization and new challenges in meeting the intellectual and financial costs of remote learning resulted in stress, anxiety, depression and mental health disabilities, affecting particularly more vulnerable young Pinoys.

Set against a framework of adolescent sexuality and reproductive health issues, the YAFS5 presents the antecedents and manifestations that can steer stakeholders to be more responsive and sensitive to young Pinoys.

For instance, the UPPI points out that the YAFS5 will be useful for the Department of Health (DOH) in implementing its Adolescent Health and Development Program Strategic Plan.

The failure of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to appoint a permanent DOH secretary six months after he assumed office has an impact on the national health care system that does not just need to modernize and anticipate future epidemics and pandemics but must synergize public and private stakeholders to respond to current priorities.

The YAFS5 results established that during the pandemic, there are increased suicidal tendencies and decreased awareness and understanding of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (Aids) and emergency contraceptive (EC) pills among the Kabataang Pinoy.

To reach out to the youth, digital media have been normalized as the best channels for communicating messages to inform, educate, persuade and assist.

Yet, the YAFS5 identify close friends as crucial influencers, with 88 percent of the respondents saying they have close friends, with six as the median number. This behavior was observed more among male youths and those aged 15-19 years.

Sixty-three percent of the respondents said that they confide in their close friends their personal problems on a regular basis.

Seventy percent of young Filipinas and 56 percent of young Filipinos go to their close friends for personal advice.

Stakeholders should include this intimate network of close friends as change agents and personal influencers in strategizing their approaches to reach out to the Filipino youths, particularly in the concerns of mental wellness and adolescent sexuality and reproductive health.