You might imagine that all our banging on about safe sex would mean no one’s having sex without protection.
And yet, despite every advert for condoms, every shouty sex ed teacher, and every campaign reminding people to stay safe, loads of young people are going ahead and having unprotected sex. More than you might think, actually.
New research from YouGov reveals that nearly half (47%) of sexually active young people in the UK have had sex with a new partner without a condom, and one in ten sexually active 16-24 year olds have never used a condom.
That’s pretty worrying, especially considering how prevalent STIs are among young people. Nearly six in ten of all chlamydia and gonorrhoea diagnoses in 2016 were in people aged 15 to 24.
It’s not clear why this is. Is it down to poor sex education? Embarrassment around buying condoms? The use of contraception remaining largely absent from TV shows and films?
To combat the issue, Publis Health England has launched the first Government sexual health campaign in eight years – a new campaign called Protect Against STIs. This will work to promote condom use as the most effective way to protect against sexually transmitted diseases.
The campaign aims to raise awareness of the very serious consequences of contracting an STI, including infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, and even meningitis, and to highlight the fact that many STIs are symptomless, so you can’t tell if someone has one.
The campaign will need to tackle young people’s difficulty discussing sex. The YouGov survey reveals that 56% of men and 43% of women find it difficult to talk about STIs with their friends, and 58% said that if they had an STI they’d find it difficult to discuss with their sexual partner.
They’ll also need to make young people bothered about STIs, rather than just worrying about pregnancy. 58% of young people surveyed said they use contraception to avoid pregnancy, while 29% said they used condoms to protect themselves from STIs. This can mean that young people use contraception that prevents pregnancy, such as the contraceptive pill, as that’s what they’re most worried about – leaving them unprotected against STIs.
Protect Against STIs will launch 15 December with a nationwide digital advertising campaign targeting young people, showing real people sharing their stories of having an STI.
Hopefully that’ll make us all take safe sex a little more seriously, and refuse to have sex that isn’t protected.
Dr Sara Kayat, TV doctor and campaign supporter said: ‘Using a condom is the safest way to ensure that you avoid contracting STIs, such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea.
‘Whilst many STIs are symptomless, contracting them can have serious health consequences if left untreated and even lead to infertility. As I tell patients in my clinic every week, it’s just not worth putting yourself at risk by not using a condom.’
True that. Condoms really don’t reduce pleasure, and should be an essential part of sex – not an afterthought or something to dismiss in the heat of the moment.
Remember that while preventing pregnancy when you don’t want to get pregnant is important, so is protecting yourself from STIs. Get regular checks and always use a condom with a partner whose sexual health results you haven’t confirmed – for oral, vaginal, and anal sex. Stay safe out there.
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