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Thursday, 3 October, 2002, 00:56 GMT 01:56 UK
Sex diseases more likely in teenage girls
Couple kissing
Sex diseases are an increasing problem
Girls under 16 who attend sexual disease clinics are three times more likely to have a sexually transmitted infection than other women, research indicates.

Doctors analysed data from patients aged 16 and under who attended a genitourinary medicine clinic in London during the months of March and October 1998.

The average age was 15, but some girls were as young as 12.

Young girls have difficulty in negotiating safe sex with their partners

Dr Sarah Creighton
Over the two months, 144 girls were seen by a doctor at the clinic.

Of these, 27 were pregnant. Most had been pregnant at least once - and one 15-year-old girl said she had been pregnant ten times.

Although this claim could not be verified, the girl, who had a history of sexual abuse, already had one child, had had two confirmed terminations and another positive pregnancy test.

Of the 117 girls who were not pregnant at the time, three quarters said they were not using any form of contraception.

Almost two thirds of the girls had a sexually transmitted infection, a rate almost three times that of other women attending the clinic.

Specifically, they were three times as likely to have gonorrhoea and chlamydia as other clinic users.

Sexual awareness

Over 40% came to the clinic for a routine check-up, suggesting a reasonable level of sexual health awareness.

But almost half of them failed to return for a follow up appointment. Of those who did, one in five had failed to complete treatment.

The researchers stressed that young people who attend GUM clinics are not typical of all teenagers. They also accept that the clinic in question is in an area where rates of sexually transmitted disease are high.

But they say their research suggests that rates of sexually transmitted infection among young people may be higher than national figures indicate.

They are calling for a more concerted approach to providing young people with advice about sexual health - particularly on the use of contraception.

Lead researcher Dr Sarah Creighton described the findings as "absolutely depressing".

Safe sex peril

She told BBC News Online: "Young girls have difficulty in negotiating safe sex with their partners, and their partners tend not to value them as much as the partners of older women do."

The research found that just 8% of the under 16s who attended the clinic had been advised to do so by their partners, compared to almost 50% of female attendees over the age of 20.

Dr Creighton said: "Most of the women had been to the clinic before and knew all about the risk of infection, but despite that many felt they could not risk the good opinion of their partner by insisting on using a condom."

Just 18 boys were seen by a doctor at the clinic during the same period.

The researchers believe this was not due to boys maturing later sexually, simply that they are less likely to seek medical help.

Colin Dixon, Head of National Services at the HIV charity the Terrence Higgins Trust said: "This research highlights the importance of the governments eagerly awaited sexual health awareness campaign.

"There is also an evident need for more targeted work aimed at young people most at risk of STI's, often in socially excluded groups.

It is good news that young people are seeking advice from sexual health clinics, but it's vital that these clinics are adequately resoruced to deal with the increasing number of young people seeking information and tests for STIs."

The research is published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections.

The BBC's Chris Ledgard
"The London boroughs of Lewisham, Lambeth and Southwark have the highest incidence"
Dr Sarah Creighton, University College Hospital
"Some will end up infertile, some will have ectopic pregnancies"
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