Figures released this week by the Public Health England show, rather worryingly, that too many young people are having unsafe sex.
Last year, there was an overall 5% rise in rates of people being diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STI – overall figure 448,422, with nearly a quarter of cases in London).
Unfortunately, the under 25s lead the way with statistics showing 64% of them in the heterosexual group were diagnosed with chlamydia and 54% were treated for genital warts. The problem is more acute among homosexuals within this age group. In London, for example, 81% of new syphilis cases were among gay men.
Young people aren't getting the message
Dr Gwenda Hughes, head of STI surveillance at Public Health England, explains why these figures are a cause for serious concern: “The data shows too many people are continuing to have unsafe sex, putting themselves at risk of STIs and the serious consequences associated with infection, including infertility.”
That young people aren’t seeming to get the message that unsafe sex could affect their sexual health and fertility leads me to question the ethics of the government’s recent decision not to make sex and relationship education mandatory.
Numerous surveys show increasing numbers of young people are viewing sex and relationships online, via pornographic websites. By doing this they are at serious risk of emotional distress at best, and at worst interpreting some of the misogynistic and sometimes violent behaviours they see as “the norm”. This makes the government’s decision appear not only retrograde, but dangerous.
Poor level of sex education
The government might counteract the argument by saying parents should take more personal responsibility for educating their children on the “facts of life”. But I believe this responsibility is unfair and misguided. Many parents, myself included, received a poor level of sex education and therefore may feel embarrassed or unsure about the “age appropriate” messages they need to pass on.
Although I recently bought my eldest daughter a book to explain the facts of life in the hope it will open up a dialogue, discussions with other parents of similar aged children (8/9) established many are unsure and unclear about whether to do so themselves. It’s all down to those feelings of fear and embarrassment again.
If the government continues favouring a laissez fair approach, we are in danger of giving our own kids mixed and confusing messages about sexual health and relationships. This time round, with all the evidence pointing to how wrong this would be and the dire consequences, we might all be culpable.