Britain in the Grip of an Epidemic of Sexually Transmitted Infections

by Gopalan on Oct 31 2008 11:15 AM

 Britain in the Grip of an Epidemic of Sexually Transmitted Infections
A wave of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is sweeping the UK. Some reports say that the country has the worst sexual health in Europe - and it is teenagers who have the worst sexual health of all.
It all could point to a social breakdown calling for serious introspection. But no one seems to be listening. The situation has been progressively deteriorating.

Since 2003, cases of STIs diagnosed in those aged under 19 have risen by 21 per cent. Chlamydia and gonorrhea are a particular problem, while herpes in teenage girls rose 16 per cent between 2005 and 2006.

These are nasty diseases. While chlamydia is curable with a dose of antibiotics, it is often symptomless and can progress to such a degree that it can cost a woman her fertility.

Herpes, meanwhile, is incurable. The virus remains in the body for life and sufferers experience repeated recurrences which can be severe.

Further evidence of the risks being taken are contained in abortion statistics, which show that the number of teenagers having terminations rose 15 per cent in the past five years.

Worse still, between 2006 and 2007, there was a 10 per cent rise in abortions among under-16s, from 3,990 to 4,376. Most involved girls aged 15, but 1,008 were 14 and 163 were even younger.

Beyond the toll these abortions and STIs have on the physical and mental health of individuals, they also cost society as a whole. Last year, the bill for treating teenagers suffering from STIs came to more than £40million - that's an increase of £7million since 2003.

Add in the £44 million cost of teenage abortions and the vast amounts spent trying to bring down teenage birth rates, and the figures run into hundreds of millions of pounds.

So how does the Government intend to fix this? By spending more money, of course.

Not only do they want to open more clinics, but they want to spend even more money on sex education. And, specifically, they want to extend that sex education to children as young as five.

The idea is that if British teenagers were better educated, they would understand the risks and so be better able to make an informed decision. That decision, so the received logic goes, would be either to abstain from sex or, if they are to have sex, to have it safely.

Dr Eva Jungmann is a consultant at the Archway Sexual Health Clinic in Camden, North London, and says she is regularly shocked by how ill-informed young patients are about sexual health.

'We see the whole spectrum,' she says, 'from people who do not know the basic principles of their anatomy to people who are very well-educated. One of our assessments when we see them is to see how well informed they are.'

A 'substantial minority', she says, do not even know the terminology to describe their genitalia how they work or what is involved in a pregnancy.

'It does surprise me in a way, because I think that should be covered in schools. But then I have not been in biology lessons, so I don't know how good they are at imparting that knowledge and how reproductive health is discussed at home,' she says.

Dr Jungmann is a strong believer that by improving education and the flow of information, children will be better able to protect themselves from potential harm.

But at the same time she admits that it is not an easy fix.

'If you look at human behaviour, that is very difficult to change anyway,' she says. 'And if you look at sexual behaviour that is even harder to change.'

There has been a virtual explosion of unprotected sex. Girls enjoy their freedom to the hilt, frequently vacationing, all unto themselves, sans all parental control, only to rue later.

Throw into this cauldron the alcohol effect. Whatever the lessons learnt in the classroom,  after a few drinks, common sense goes out of the window.

One recent study, conducted at a sexual health clinic, found that nine out of ten patients admitted they routinely exceeded recommended daily drinking guidelines (two to three units for women and three to four for men).

Three-quarters admitted they had unprotected sex after drinking, and only 14 per cent of men and 18 per cent of women said they used a condom with a new sexual partner.

Linda Tucker, co-author of the research, said: 'The link between sexual risk and drinking too much alcohol is not the most original idea in the world, but we now have clear scientific evidence of the relationship.'

The study, published in the International Journal of STD and AIDS, also found women who binge-drank had more sexual partners than those who did not.

Nowadays, some smart girls insist that their boyfriends get themselves screened for STIs before deciding to take the relationship further, robbing romance of all its magic.

But is that all there to it? Is not sex education itself contributing to the problem than solving it, some wonder.

Dr Trevor Stammers, a London GP and chairman of the Christian Medical Fellowship, says: 'This increase in incidence of STIs is exactly what I would have predicted given the prevailing ethos that means there is no ethical foundation to the sex education of young people.

'For the past 20 years we have had laissez-faire, value-free sex education in which children and teenagers are being taught a 'do as you feel' gospel that simply centres on condoms and consent. But if you teach people that condoms and consent are all you need then you have got no ethical foundation for saying that having serial, multiple partners is wrong.'

Dr Stammers believes it is essential that the information given about sex is not imparted in a moral vacuum. Parents also have a key role to play.

'Where there is a strong, family-based value system, where parents are talking to children about sexual issues, where they are saying that underage sex is not only illegal but dangerous, we know that these children are less likely to get STIs,' he says.

'We should be communicating that love and sexuality are intimately linked and that if you separate one from the other, your life will be impoverished as a result of it.'

This  view is one broadly supported by Nadine Dorries. The Tory MP has three daughters, aged 23, 20 and 16, and feels that the nature of sex education is very wrong.

'Under Labour, there has been a massive increase in the amount of sex education given in schools, yet there has also been a massive rise in the incidence of STIs, not just in teenagers but in children as young as 11 and 12,' she says.

'Maybe the time has come to teach teenagers to say no. Children in their early teens should be taught that it is illegal to have sex and that it is wrong.'

Recently, she explains, the parents of a 13-year-old girl came to see her and told how shocked their daughter had been after being instructed how to put a condom on a banana.

'Now we're being told they want to teach children as young as five that sort of thing, but the message they are actually giving them is 'go out and try it for yourself',' she says.

Of course, such views go against the current, perceived wisdom. But maybe after a decade of doing it Labour's way, a decade which has spawned a generation of teenagers who drink to excess, eat to excess and who suffer from more sexually transmitted diseases than ever, the time is right to take a different approach, Tom Rawstorne and Alison Smith-Squire write in Daily Mail. 


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