Teenagers abstain from sex? dream on

A television advertising drive aimed at changing the sexual
behaviour of young people will be launched in the spring. The
£50m campaign will be as prominent as that of the 1980s which
alerted people to the dangers of Aids with supersize images of
tombstones. On this occasion, one of the messages is: abstain to
avoid sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Whoever envisaged that “Just Say No” for the benefit of your
health, would have an impact on the young is clearly out of

According to the Office of National Statistics, around
two-thirds of men aged 16 to 69 and 63 per cent of women aged 16 to
49 said that their behaviour had not been influenced by what they
knew about STDs.

Stressing the importance of condoms might see more positive
results, as would making sex and relationships education a
statutory part of the national curriculum, taught by properly
trained staff – and preserving confidentiality for those
under 16 who are sexually active.

The Health Protection Agency in its annual report reveals that
cases of chlamydia (which causes infertility) rose by 8 per cent
last year. Diagnoses of syphilis went up by 28 per cent from a low
base to reach 1,575. There are 53,000 adults living with the HIV
virus, 14,300 of whom are unaware of their condition.

The House of Commons select committee on sexual health has
described the situation as a “crisis”. The government has now
announced a £300m strategy which aims to reduce waiting times
at clinics from several weeks to 48 hours.

One issue that also needs to be addressed is how best to reach
young men. Only 16 per cent of clients visiting Brook, which
provides contraception and sexual health advice to young people, is

A number of Brook’s 17 centres around the UK have male
outreach workers (more are desperately required) focusing on young
men. These workers work through schools and organise drop-in
centres and small discussion groups that look at sexual health and
broader issues such as contemporary models of masculinity. One
problem is that some teenagers don’t want to go to Brook for
advice because that suggests they “don’t know it all”.

The government should draw on Brook’s experience. If the
boys won’t come to the clinics then it’s vital to find
more imaginative ways of taking the information to the boys. Not
just for their own good but also for the good of the young women
they will partner.





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