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The BBC's James Westhead
"The increase is alarming"
 real 56k

Dr Kevin Fenton
"People are becoming too complacent"
 real 28k

Professor Michael Adler, sexual health expert
"The government is trying to do things"
 real 28k

Friday, 15 December, 2000, 13:11 GMT
Unsafe sex 'triggers' more disease
Teenage sexual health is declining
Complacency over safe sex is being blamed for a dramatic rise in cases of sexually transmitted diseases.

According to government figures diagnoses have hit a 10 year high with rates of chlamydia and gonorrhoea in particular rising dramatically since 1995.

The number of people visiting Genitourinary medicine clinics (GUM clinics) in the UK has doubled in ten years.

Experts warn complacency about safe sex messages had led to the soaring infection rates, particularly among young women and gay men.

Sexually transmitted diseases
Genital chlamydia - 32,371 cases in 1995, 56,855 in 1999
Gonorrhoea - 10,598 cases in 1995, 16,470 in 1999
Syphilis - 141 cases in 1995, 217 in 1999
Genital warts - 60,334 cases in 1995, 72,233 in 1999
There has been a call for doctors to try and persuade teenagers to abstain from sex altogether.

The statistics from the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) show that since 1995 diagnoses of genital chlamydia have risen 77%, gonorrhoea by 57%, syphilis by 56% and genital warts by 22%.

Dr Kevin Fenton, of the PHLS Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, said: "A worrying trend is emerging from these figures.

"The main groups of concern are young women, who experience the highest rates of infection with gonorrhoea and chlamydia, and gay and bisexual men, in whom syphilis infections doubled between 1998 and 1999."

Complacency blamed

Dr Fenton blamed complacency over safe sex for the rise.

Dr Kevin Fenton
Dr Kevin Fenton warned of complacency
"People must be aware of the serious long-term effects of these infections such as pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility or ectopic pregnancy," he said.

Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox blamed the government for failing to educate teenagers about the risks associated with unsafe sex.

Professor Michael Adler, the government's chief advisor on sexual health matters, accepted that young people had failed to heed safe sex messages.

He said a national sexual health strategy was currently being drawn up.

Proposals that GPs should promote abstinence come from Dr Trevor Stammers, writing in the British Medical Journal.

The discipline of abstinence in teenage years is a good preparation for fulfilling sex in later life

Dr Trevor Stammers
Dr Stammers argues that abstinence makes sense and is effective.

A tutor in general practice and commentator on sexual health, Dr Stammers said research showed that early intercourse carried greater risks and often led to subsequent regret.

Sexually active teenagers are also more likely to be emotionally hurt and have an increased risk of depression and suicide.

Dr Stammers said that abstinence programmes from the US have recorded "a sharp reduction in the number of pregnancies".

And he argued that easier availability of contraception and more explicit sex education at an earlier age were tired and inadequate responses to declining teenage sexual health.

Fulfilling sex

Doctors should encourage adolescents to avoid early sexual intercourse so that they can enjoy better long term sexual health, he concluded.

"Great sex involves abandonment and restraint, the excitement of anticipation as well as the thrill of release," he said.

"The discipline of abstinence in teenage years is a good preparation for fulfilling sex in later life.

"Doctors should encourage adolescents to avoid early sexual intercourse so that they can enjoy better long term sexual health."

But Dr Roger Ingham, of the Centre for Sexual Health Research, University of Southampton, rejected Dr Stammers' argument, saying that the answer lies in promoting greater openness.

Peer pressure

Simply advising young people not to have sex fails to take account of intense peer pressure, Dr Ingham argued in the BMJ.

It also runs the risk that they will become even more alienated from adults and that they will be less likely to use the services available.

Dr Ingham said: "Many people in health and education services are making strenuous efforts to improve the sexual health of young people by teaching about responsibility and good personal relationships.

"Sexual health experts who attempt to promulgate their own personal and moral values under the guise of scientifically based medical opinion do not help this work."

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See also:

07 Dec 00 | Health
Sex diseases on the increase
24 Mar 00 | Health
Sex disease cases rise
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