Page last updated at 00:10 GMT, Monday, 30 November 2009

Let's talk about safe sex, government urges young

Image from new campaign on contraception
The campaign aims to raise awareness about contraception

The government has launched a campaign to encourage young people to talk more openly about sex and contraception.

The teenage pregnancy rate in the UK is Europe's highest and ministers want to change attitudes towards safer sex.

People aged 16 to 24 should not be too embarrassed to talk openly with partners, friends, parents and health professionals, ministers argue.

A recent survey suggested 26% of people in that age group never discussed contraception with their partners.

The "Contraception. Worth Talking About" advertising will not feature any people, but will show snippets of "contraception conversations" in speech bubbles, in a variety of everyday scenarios, such as in a shopping centre, or in front of the television.

The campaign comes after figures earlier this year showed the government's target of halving teenage pregnancy rates by 2010 is likely to be missed.

'Taboo subject'

Data published in February showed there were 41.9 conceptions per 1,000 15 to 17 year olds in 2007 - up from 40.9 the year before.

There have also been concerns about rising rates of sexually transmitted infections, particularly chlamydia, among teenagers and young adults.

The Department of Health said a lack of knowledge and communication, as well as misinformation and poor attitudes, were hindering safer sex in young people.

Cap with spermicide
Combined pill
Contraceptive injection
Contraceptive patch
Contraceptive vaginal ring
Diaphragm with spermicide
Female condom
Female sterilisation
Intrauterine device (IUD)
Intrauterine system (IUS)
Male condom
Male sterilisation (vasectomy)
Natural family planning
Progestogen-only pill

A spokesman said a survey had suggested that 92% of people could not name the 15 types of contraception options available to them.

One in five said they felt awkward discussing contraception with friends, and 26% never discussed contraception with their partner.

Public Health Minister Gillan Merron said sex was still a taboo topic, with too many people holding back from having honest conversations with young people.

"There is a method of contraception to suit the lifestyle of everyone, and it's right to talk about these options," she said.

"The campaign is designed to change attitudes and show young people that having open conversations with their partners, friends, parents and health professionals is a must - it isn't something to be embarrassed about."

Children's Minister Dawn Primarolo added: "Through compulsory sex education at school and health advice to teenagers, we are supporting young people to delay early sex, and to make sure they use effective contraception when they do start having sex.

"This is vital if we are to keep teenage pregnancy rates on their downward trend, and to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections."

'Relationship context'

Hilary Pannack, chief executive of the sex education charity Straight Talking, agreed young people needed to be more comfortable with talking about contraception.

But she added: "Young people also need a reason not to get pregnant and by employing teenage parents to deliver a programme in schools to enable young people to understand the realities of early pregnancy and parenting, Straight Talking is providing a vital element of the prevention service which is largely being ignored.

"Normalising information about contraception, in particular information about condoms being the best protection from STIs, is important.

"However, there does need to be a relationship context for this information.

"We need to discuss self respect and communication as well as the 15 different types of contraception."

Jules Hillier, of the charity Brook, welcomed the new campaign.

She said: "We hope it will start to change the culture within which we discuss sex and make it easier for young people to find good quality information which helps them to make informed decisions and improve their sexual health."

Lisa Power, of the HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust said: "Too often, young people don't know the facts about contraception and sexual health.

"Many rely entirely on playground gossip which is often wrong, exaggerated and even dangerous."

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