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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 August 2006, 23:19 GMT 00:19 UK
'It's not just a case of getting a cream'
By Helen Neill
Health reporter, BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat

A survey has found that nearly a third of 16 to 24-year-olds lost their virginity below the age of consent. And it appears that young people are not taking the threat of sexually transmitted infections seriously.

A young couple
Many young people do not use condoms (pic posed by models)

So, according to an online survey of 30,000 young people, well over a third of under 25s say they don't automatically use a condom every time they have sex with a new partner.

Surprised? Probably not, but here's my impression of why.

Firstly, condoms still have an image problem. For a lot of young people they just aren't cool.

While you will find lots of teenagers who've got the message, there are many others who think that to go unprotected is worth the risk.

This weekend I spoke to 19-year-old John from Scunthorpe. He told me that he had recently gone home with a girl, offered to use one, and "she threw it away".

Graph: Reasons for not wearing condom with new partner

Other very common views, whether you speak to boys or girls, are that they "don't like the feeling" and think that condoms "spoil the mood".

Perhaps they would get over the inconvenience if they took the threat of sexually transmitted infections more seriously.

Despite soaring levels of STIs among young people in the UK, the survey shows that for most (34%) pregnancy is the biggest worry about having sex.

The so-called "Aids Generation", brought up in the 80s and scared into safe sex by public information films showing collapsing grave stones, are getting married and having babies.

Those in their teens and early 20s now just aren't as worried. Common diseases like chlamydia don't faze them.

Radio 1's Dr Mark Hamilton provides advice to listeners and says that many don't realise "it's not just a case of having an itch and getting a cream, some of the sexually transmitted infections have long lasting medical effects and leave you with fertility problems".

Sex education

More than two-thirds of the people who took part said that they had had a one-night stand, and for many the number of sexual partners is up into double figures, but we shouldn't rush into thinking that all young people are promiscuous.

HAVE YOUR SAY
These figures should not come as a surprise to anyone
Gaz, UK,

The survey suggests large proportions are more conservative than we imagine.

The most common age to lose their virginity is 16, and most common number of sexual partners is only two to four.

One thing is clear, sex education at school is still underwhelming for most. Some 80% said that they only do the "basics", but would they want more even if it was offered?

In the same survey they also tell us that teachers are the last people they go to for sex advice.

Instead, friends and internet emerge as the most important sources of information.

This is another worry for Dr Hamilton who says "my concern is that the advice they are getting is not as accurate as it should be".

The Department of Health supported the BareAll06 campaign which was run by BBC Radio 1, 1xtra, MTV and Durex. Ministers say they will use the findings to help tailor the information they give to young people.

One thing it makes clear is that they are going to have to get creative to get through to a generation who just don't seem to want their sex education from conventional sources.


SEE ALSO
NHS 'should offer condom range'
06 Aug 06 |  Health

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