Research type 
Year of report 

Summary of findings

  • Although the most popular location of calls to Sexwise (49%) was call boxes, progressively more calls have been made from mobile phones over the last few years: this reflects the increase in mobile phone ownership among young people over the years, but may have implications for the quality of the conversation between the young person and the adviser.
  • There has been a slight upturn in the proportion of young people finding it difficult to get through to the Helpline or to find the number. In 2004 a third (34%) of young people found it very or quite difficult to get through, compared with 31% in 2003 and 27% in 2002. Moreover one in ten young people (10%) in 2004 found it difficult to find the number, compared with 5% in 2003.
  • Overall, callers were very positive about the service and treatment they received from the Helpline with 97% rating the service as good or excellent.
  • Perceptions of Sexwise remain extremely positive, with the vast majority of callers saying that the advisors were very helpful and really know what they are talking about, and that the caller had plenty of time to talk.
  • It is clear that callers are tending to follow up on referrals made – around a half of those who had been advised to contact someone else on a previous call had gone on to do so. It therefore appears that the Sexwise Helpline is effective in directing young people to other local sources of help or advice.
  • Friends remain the single most common way of raising awareness about the Helpline (58% found out about it from friends in 2004, 61% in 2003). However, advertising is also very important. Three in ten (30%) of callers in 2004 found out about the Helpline through a radio ad and 19% from a magazine ad.
  • Almost a third (35%) of callers in 2004 had negative expectations of the Helpline in advance of calling, although this is lower than the proportion observed in 2003 (47%) and 2002 (45%). The main negative comments made were similar to those observed in previous years and centred on fear of the unknown or worries about being embarrassed.
  • One of the additional information sources available to young people is the website There has been a notable increase in awareness of the site over time, rising from 4% in 2002 to 63% in 2004. The ability to talk to someone and lack of internet access were the key reasons provided for calling the Helpline rather than visiting the website.

Research objectives


This survey aimed to evaluate the current level of caller satisfaction and to compare this with the previous surveys. Callers to the Helpline were asked to take part in a short interview with an independent interviewer after completing their conversation with the Sexwise adviser.



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 2004 survey, the RUThinking media campaign aimed at young people aged 13-17 had been running for some years, with advertising on the radio and in magazines. The campaign, which aims to improve teenagers’ understanding around sex and sexual health issues, 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, 2002 and 2003. The present study is the sixth in a series of surveys examining the views of callers to the Sexwise Helpline.

Research participants


Callers to the Sexwise helpline

Audience Summary





Not specified



The age profile was slightly but not significantly older than that achieved in previous surveys, with three fifths (62%) of respondents aged under 16. The mean average age was 14.8. Examining the sample by age group, the research sample over represents older callers (16+). It is assumed that callers in this age group are more likely to have more confidence to talk to a stranger about the service, and they are also more likely to understand the nature of a confidential interview.

Social Class


Not specified


Data collection methodology


Other data collection methodology


The survey method for the 2004 survey was similar to the previous studies to ensure comparability across the years. BMRB interviewers were based at the offices of Essentia, working 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 interview were also excluded. Advisers were asked to keep a record of “eligible” and “ineligible” calls, recording why callers were not passed on for interview. Efforts were made to ensure interviews were conducted over a range of times, days and different shift patterns. Interviews were conducted in accordance with the Code of Conduct of the Market Research Society (MRS). Usually, under-16s would not be interviewed without first obtaining parental permission to do so. However, in this case, obtaining parental permission would have broken the confidentiality on which the Sexwise Helpline is based. Therefore, permission to interview without first gaining parental permission was obtained from the MRS Professional and Ethical Standards Committee. Data was weighted using the same procedure as employed in previous surveys. Weighting corrected for the variable flow of eligible calls on different days and times of day, as recorded by the advisers. There was no weighting carried out to account for differences between the demographics of the research sample as compared to the caller population, but these sample differences (discussed under age and gender below) should be borne in mind when examining the results of the survey. However, the differences are consistent at each wave; allowing real comparisons to be made wave on wave.

Sample size



Detailed region


In 2004, for the first time, interviewers worked at two Essentia sites – Glasgow and Brora. The Essentia Brora Centre works as an overflow centre for the main call centre in Glasgow – calls are diverted to Brora when all advisors at Glasgow are busy. As the Brora Centre tends to take calls when the telephone lines are busier, it was decided that it was important to include it in the survey.

Fieldwork dates


28th February and 27th March 2004

Agree to publish






Research agency

BMRB Social Research

COI Number