Research type 
Year of report 

Summary of findings

  • Although the majority of calls to Sexwise (59%) were made from call boxes, progressively more calls have been made from mobile phones over the last few years. This may have implications for the quality of the conversation between the young person and the adviser.
  • Young people are finding it less difficult to contact the Helpline than before. Clearly the ease of contacting the Helpline is an important issue, as those who have had some difficulty making contact tend to be less satisfied with the service they receive from the Helpline
  • Overall, however, callers are highly positive about the service and treatment they receive from the Helpline. Over nine in ten (95%) rated the service as good, with two fifths (45%) rating it as excellent and a third (30%) rating it as very good.
  • The very slight downward trend in perceptions of Sexwise that had been noted in 2002 was reversed in 2003.
  • Given the positive perceptions of service recorded, it is not surprising to note that the vast majority of callers were highly likely to call again in the future if they needed to
  • Just under three in ten callers (29%) said that they had been advised to speak to someone else as a result of their call, with many referred to their GP or Family Planning Clinic.
  • Three quarters (77%) of those advised to speak to someone else said that they were likely to do so, and it appears that the service received from the Helpline has an impact on likelihood of following up this referral: It therefore appears that the Sexwise Helpline is being very effective in directing young people to other local sources of help or advice.
  • One of the additional information sources available to young people is the website, and around a half of callers (48%) had heard of the site.
  • As a result of this increased awareness, callers were also more likely to have visited the RUThinking website: 7% of all callers said they had visited it in 2003, compared with 3% in 2002.
  • Friends remain the single most common way of raising awareness about the Helpline (61% found out about it from friends in 2003). However, advertising is also very important. In total, 47% of callers had been made aware of Sexwise through some form of advertising.
  • However, there are key differences in the messages which different information sources give about the Helpline. Callers said that word of mouth sources tended to give recommendations of the service provided, whereas campaign materials gave more factual information, such as the telephone number.
  • In total nearly two thirds (63%) of all callers had seen or heard some advertising for the Helpline recently, a similar proportion to that seen in 2002.
  • These two sources of information tend to work together in building expectations of the Helpline in advance of the call, but expectations are not always positive. Almost half (47%) of callers had negative expectations of the Helpline in advance of calling and a similar proportion was observed in 2002. Very few became more negative about the Helpline as a result of their call.
  • Overall, the research suggests that the Sexwise Helpline continues to provide an excellent service to the young people it targets. It seems that improvements have been made to reverse the slight downward trend in satisfaction and to implement measures such as mentioning the RUThinking website to young people during the call. As usage has increased and is likely to increase further it is important to ensure that the RUThinking website is kept as up-to-date and relevant as possible.

Research objectives


This survey aimed to evaluate the current level of caller satisfaction and to compare this with the previous four surveys.



Sexwise is a telephone Helpline managed by COI and funded by the Department of Health. The service is provided by the Essentia Group and offers callers confidential and anonymous advice and information about sexual matters. It was launched in 1995 and is primarily aimed at teenagers. It provides them with support and information as part of the campaign to reduce teenage pregnancy.

At the time of the 2003 survey, the RUThinking media campaign aimed at young people aged 13-17 was running, with advertising on the radio and in magazines. The campaign that was aimed at improving teenagers’ understanding around sex and sexual issues, had only just started at the time of the 2001 survey, and results reflect the build up of this campaign over time.

Previous evaluations of the Sexwise Helpline have been conducted by BMRB Social Research in 1996, 1999, 2001 and 2002

Research participants


Respondents were selected from callers to the helplines. At the end of their call each respondent was asked if they would take part in a survey. If the interviewer was free, an interview was carried out straight away, using the ‘next available’ rule. If the interviewer was not free then the respondent would not be interviewed.

Audience Summary





Not specified


  • 69% were aged 15 or less
  • 29% were aged 16 and over
  • Age of respondents was discussed in the report but could not be part of the sample selection process. It is a reflection of the type of callers using the helpline

Social Class


Not specified


Data collection methodology


Other data collection methodology

  • The survey method for the 2003 survey was identical to the previous studies to ensure comparability across the years. BMRB interviewers were based at the offices of Essentia in Glasgow, alongside the advisers. Interviews were conducted over the telephone after the caller had completed their call to the adviser. All the interviews were conducted using CAPI (Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing).
  • All callers to Sexwise were eligible for interview, but it was decided to exclude all calls that were “silent” or “trial” calls, as well as abusive callers. Those callers who were felt to be too stressed to conduct an interview were also excluded. The decision on who was eligible to include in the study was made by individual advisers.
  • Interviews were conducted according to the “next available” rule.
  • Only if the interviewer signalled that they were available to receive a call would the adviser ask the caller to take part in the survey. By stipulating that as soon as the interviewer becomes free the next eligible and willing caller must be transferred, the advisers’ subjective choice of which caller to transfer is largely removed.
  • As with the previous surveys, advisers working during the times when an interviewer was working were asked to keep a record of all the calls they handled themselves, distinguishing between “eligible” and “ineligible” calls.
  • Shifts were arranged to cover all times of day when Sexwise operates (8am-midnight) and all days of the week (Monday – Sunday). Fieldwork was completed over a 4-week period to ensure a wide spread of callers was gained.
  • Weighting corrected for the variable flow of eligible calls on different days and times of day, as recorded by the advisers. In order to restore the equal probabilities of being interviewed to each caller, accurate data about the flow of calls during fieldwork shifts was required. The advisers kept records of the total number of eligible calls within each interviewer shift, and these were used as the basis for the weighting applied. Weights were applied to each interviewer shift worked.
  • The target weight for each shift was calculated by working out the proportion of eligible calls handled by advisers per shift, as a percentage of the total eligible calls handled during the whole fieldwork period.

Sample size


449 CAPI interviews achieved

Detailed region


Not specified

Fieldwork dates


28 Feb – 27 March 2003

Agree to publish



Research agency


COI Number


Report format