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Thursday, 21 December, 2000, 11:10 GMT
Safe sex: Why isn't the message getting through?
Complacent attitudes towards safe sex are being blamed for a dramatic rise in the number of people infected with sexually-transmitted diseases.Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
According to official government figures, the number of cases in the UK is at its highest for ten years. The groups most at risk of infection are young women and gay men.
Public Health experts say the safe sex message doesn't appear to be getting through.
Why not? Have people become complacent about safe sex? What can be done to change this?
The truth is that the "sexual revolution" has been a costly disaster. There is now more sex education than ever before (my teenage daughters say they are fed up with it) and contraception is freely available (I know, I'm a GP), yet the statistics are getting worse all the time.
In the US the "true love waits" movement has had some success in reversing the disastrous, failed permissive sex experiment. Why isn't it possible to try something like that here?
Maybe it's time to be less subtle in our educational approach. Anti-drink-driving campaigns have steadily become more graphic and much more real. These seem to have had an effect. Drink driving is no longer acceptable, the same needs to be done with unprotected sex. Youngsters need to SEE the effects, graphic pictures of the damage and consequences need to be shown. It's no good telling a teenager you might get a nasty disease, that means nothing; but if you show them pictures of bad infections, people suffering and dying in their own countries/areas then the message will get through.
Tim Saunders, UK
Women blame the men and the men blame the women. Usually it takes two to have sex so all that is needed is for one partner to say "No! Not without protection!" Or just plain "No!" would be better if they are not married! Old-fashioned - maybe. Sensible - definitely!
The comments so far have been interesting especially those about monogamy. STD's are a bi-product of our modern-day world, where there is peer pressure to sleep with a partner within a few dates - otherwise you're seen as frigid or abnormal. I think this conditioning is caused by the media and Hollywood to some extent that desensitises young minds at an impressionable age. I think the answer lies in education - not just on the health aspect but morality too!
Monogamy and fidelity are a bit out of fashion, but then so is any form of conscience about right and wrong. This is the New Age in which we're supposed to be able to do as we like, but it seems to be getting us into more trouble than "getting rid of moralist hang-ups" got us out of.
I suspect the message isn't getting through because the target audience isn't listening, and they aren't listening partially because in the New Age there is very little reason why they should, and partially because those sending the message have precious little credibility.
There was a huge amount of publicity about HIV and AIDS when I was a teenager. I also saw documentaries about people suffering and dying from AIDS. I took no chances from then on. Luckily I hadn't taken any before either. There were no teachings at school or from parents at the time, but that was enough to get the message across to me. I think showing youngsters the possible consequences of having unprotected sex could be an effective approach. If children (and adults) then choose to have unprotected sex with this awareness, what else can you do, unless it's on an individual-by-individual basis. Maybe schools could be visited by HIV/AIDS victims and given seminars. To some only the real thing is believable.
Ken Beach, Germany
A return to Victorian moral standards as advocated by many contributors is not the answer. After all, many a monogamous Victorian wife died of the syphilis that her husband had caught from a prostitute. What we need to be emphasising is that condom use is an essential for protection against all sexually transmitted diseases. Women have to be confident enough to insist on condom use, and men need to get over their hang-ups about using condoms. This is where the practical educational efforts must be targeted, not in pointless moralistic crusades
Several years ago, there was an outcry in chemists shops and pharmaceutical labs all across France. The then government had decreed that condoms priced at 10 pence (1 Franc) should be available in all chemists. Condoms, especially good quality ones are very expensive in the UK. Yet I know that calling for their price to be slashed will only be interpreted by moral leaders as an incitement for under-age and others to have more sex.
It is not that the safe sex message isn't getting through to young adults, but the rise in alcohol consumption by them, that I think is to blame for this rise in sexual diseases. In particular, young women who have traditionally been regarded as sensible when it comes to using protection, are drinking more and this leads to more reckless behaviour by them.
Safe sex practices need to be taught at school - maybe using real people's experiences to get the message across. For example, videos of people with sexually transmitted diseases being interviewed and giving their story on how this has affected their lives. I think people are complacent because they think it won't happen to them or because they can't relate to the reality of the consequences. Maybe by having real people talk about the reality might get the message across.
As with smoking it would help if the movies and TV did not glamorise and actually pointed out the down side of these activities and go some way to reducing the peer pressure kids are under.
"Safe Sex"? 60 years ago, I remember The Daily Mirror and similar media types rabbiting on about the need to get rid of "Victorian attitudes". You are now reaping the whirlwind of such "unsafe opinions".
I grew up in South Africa where safe sex has been a major issue for a long time. I have always seen sexual intercourse synonymous with using a condom due to the fact that we were brain washed, from an early age, to practise safe sex.
Keeping to a single partner reduces the spread of STDs. Why isn't the Government keen to introduce gay marriage rather than keeping gays as outcasts in society?
I count myself lucky to belong to the generation that is young enough to have grown up with AIDS, but old enough to remember the Government ad campaigns. Casual sex is not the problem - you can have as many sexual partners as you want, as long as you protect yourself. Opting for one partner only as a means of protection is lunacy. Can you guarantee that they've done the same ? If in doubt, get a condom on!!
The main reason people use contraception is so they don't get pregnant. The problem stems from many women on the oral and injection pill. The pill won't stop diseases. If you don't know the person, then you don't know where they've been...
I started my sexual career in the pre-AIDS days of the late seventies and early eighties. The AIDS awareness advertising programs scared us all into using condoms, but as the years have gone by, I'm afraid I often slip back into bad old habits of having unprotected sex. I think there should be another advertising campaign to reinforce the earlier message and remind us that the threat hasn't gone away. Complacency could kill.
Alastair Stevens, UK
There are obvious reasons why thousands of years of our societies ethics, and religions teachings, have been that sex is best kept monogamous and within a permanent relationship. And these reasons are becoming even more obvious as disease, unwanted pregnancies and more relationship breakdown results.
The consistent message since the seventies (at least) has been that "greater openess and education is required" - but that is not working! And it's a worn out defence to keep on blaming the moralists for somehow interfering.
Unfortunately, the one partner principle only works if both partners buy into it- I lived with a boyfriend for 3 years and still contracted an STD, despite being entirely monogamous. He obviously wasn't so responsible.
Angus Gulliver, UK
I agree with HA, UK. In addition we should adopt a higher age for sexual consent, say 18 or 21, this WILL discourage unsafe sexual relationships with teenagers who are not mature enough to make such massive decisions.
I was very upset to read today that children as young as 11 were being treated for STDs. This surely has gone too far. I myself am rather liberal with regard to my views of sexuality and the age of consent, but this really leaves me baffled. Education is a must, and it needs to be presented by someone respected by these children and not exclusively doctors and parents.
I'm always bemused when the popular press gets its knickers in a twist (pardon the pun) over people's sexual habits. The very same people who have the horrors at the fact that too many young people take an irresponsible attitude towards sex are the first to complain whenever schools attempt to institute sex education programmes that deal with the realities of modern day sexual habits.
Too many people are having too much pre-marital sex (if marriage is even considered) and sex at too young an age fullstop, regardless of whether it is safe or not. It's a simple question of morality as much as anything else. Are they not capable of expressing themselves in other ways? There is more sex education and available contraception than ever before yet the problem gets worse, as people's overall morality declines.
It is ridiculous to expect the government to educate young people when their parents won't do that! I am American, my boyfriend is British.
He never had a conversation about sex with his parents. He was 25 when I met him and had 28 lovers before me. He was not the least familiar with any kind of birth control, wouldn't use a condom, would not pitch money for buying my birth control pills ("no girl would ever ask me in England!"). He had had unprotected sex with girls in night clubs in England 10 minutes after meeting them.
He is a wonderful guy, but the stories he has about teenagers' sex lives in England make me literally sick in the stomach.
Safe sex is the politically correct thing, and that's all it is.
J. Thiry, Germany
As the saying goes "Better to be safe than sorry". I think that in order to prevent the sexual ailments in question, young people need to be well equipped with a plausible sex education in a bid to remain happy and healthy.
In response to Wendy, UK:
The "message" isn't getting through because too many governmental bodies have a vested interest in "managing" AIDS.
All they can do is reduce the rate of incidence of AIDS in a population. Unfortunately, we do not
die as populations - but as individuals.
No matter how much you fill our brains, you will never ever be able to get through until you can tell us "I did not have sex till I was married." and "I always use a condom". As a teen we learn the hard way, that's unfortunate, but it's the truth. We don't learn from others mistakes, but we will do what has been done before.
Alex Frey, USA
Safe sex is like a "safe cigarette".
The only true safe sex is no sex.
Both can kill,
but not as quickly. When will people wake up ?
During the 80's we were sensible enough to keep electing a government that brought a campaign of sex education to our television screens. They were ridiculed for taking this responsible action. The current government has decided not to continue the safe sex advertisements and this is at the cost of lives and health. The youth of today do not have the safe sex message broadcast to them and there is no good reason why the campaign should not be bought back, it was the right thing to do. I want my four children to live long, rewarding and safe lives. If this means the government spending a few million quid on sex education broadcasts, then for the sake of the children: SPEND THE MONEY!
I have to say, in my
experience it is men, not
women, who are complacent
about safe sex. I and all
my female friends constantly
have a battle trying to get
our partners to suit up.
It's as though once the little
head takes over, logic goes
out the window and they
think you're just trying to
ruin their fun!
Li, USA, ex-Ireland
Why are we always blaming the Government and expecting them to solve all of societies problems on one hand - and then complaining that we have a Nanny State on the other? Surely everyone must know of the risks they take with unprotected sex just as they know the risks involved in smoking? The message is there but as usual, people ignore it.
More information should be relayed around to people, in some kind of advertisement, like they do for cigarettes and other things, that if you do not take care of yourself nobody will, think twice before having sex without a condom! People should be made more aware of the dangers of sexual diseases as some are really in the dark.
G White, UK
With the constant barrage of sexually
suggestive advertising to sell the most
diverse of products, girls magazines aimed
at 14 year olds telling them how to
keep their boyfriends happy, and the likes
of role-models like DJ Sarah Cox talking
about other men as a "great shags" should
anybody be surprised at these figures?.
This government is making morning after contraception even easier! All this has done is result in more teenage pregnancies, abortions and sexual disease. Government needs to bite the bullet and have an ethical personal sexual relationship policy. I suggest it starts with giving abstinence and marriage automatic tax allowances. It will save the country money and reduce this unnecessary misery and cost. Especially that spent on these morally bankrupt, self interested, medical service providers who would not be needed.
B Thompson, UK
condoms can break, yes...
STD's, promiscuity, unwanted pregnancies, alcohol and drug abuse, family break-down, child abuse, homelessness, petty crime, violence, vandalism, low productivity etc etc. While each one of these deserves our attention, we also need to realise that they are all symptoms of a general social and moral decay. The UK, as with many countries, appears to be battling to fill the vacuum that's been created as traditional values and institutions have been swept away. It is time to promote a re-discovery of morality at all levels of society, a sense of worth, identity and pride as individuals and as a community. There is no quick-fix.
Education is the only long-term option. Look at Holland, which has some of the most open and frank sex education courses (and general attitude to sex), and yet has the lowest teen pregnancy and STD rate in the western world.
Don't try and imagine STDs weren't a problem amongst other generations either.
We know we should use condoms - we just don't do it. I think we should look to South Africa where hundreds of NGOs are developing and having success with projects aimed at getting word to action and promoting not only spreading knowledge, but also change of behaviour.
Comments like those given by HA are not really helpful. Today's teens and young people, like all teens since the 60's are not interested in hearing this message. We need to ensure that they are aware of other prevention methods such as condoms and are aware of the consequences if barrier methods are not used.
Andrew Reid, London, UK
We have clear evidence that people who have numerous sexual partners are at higher risk from disease. We also know that a long-term monogamous relationship represents about as low a risk as you can get. Government insist that telling kids to use a flimsy piece of rubber every time, as long as they can find one, they don't forget and don't get bullied because "it spoils it for me", they'll be OK. It's not entirely surprising this is happening.
I try to be liberal minded about issues, but I really think people are complacent about sex. Britain has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancies as it is. This point alone is not being heeded - let alone the point about STDs. I'm not sure that allowing the Morning After pill to be readily available over the counter is such a good idea - it might prevent unwanted pregnancies, but it could encourage people to have sex without any contraception, leading to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases.
Steve Mac, England
"Safe sex" is synonymous with "educated sex": until we teach our children and teenagers to treat themselves and sex with respect both STDs and unwanted pregnancies will continue to increase. Better sex education is paramount. The answer is not to attempt to exert control over the personal choices of the individual, but to promote individual responsibility in making those choices.
Really, is this such a surprise? Our teenagers seem to be running wild with little parental/adult guidance,
sex is constantly glorified on TV and the message that seems to be filtering through
is that it's OK for us to live our lives in whatever way we want! No one seems to talk about
responsibility and the consequences of one's actions, life is just about being as hedonistic as possible!
Well, as the saying goes, you reap what you sow!
For once, I think some elements of the media have got it bang on. The AIDS campaign of the 80s instilled real fear into my generation, to the extent that most of us wouldn't even consider sex with a stranger without a condom.
My Personal Education teacher at school always told us that safe sex is no sex at all.
The idea of safe sex is also not helped by pornography and the media (esp. Hollywood).
Julian Hayward, UK
Look into the history and look at our parents way of life. Did they have boy/girlfriend every other month? I kind a doubt that! The problem with STD will always be there unless we start to living with one and only one person. That's the most safest way to avoid them. Furthermore, more education is necessary for young generation to understand the pros and cons of having early sex. Take US for example and learn how we have managed to reduce the risks of STD's.
I don't know why safe sex, is not understood by teenage people. I thought that they were taught sex education at school. This should cover foreplay, intercourse, pregnancy, STD's, relationships and parenthood.
Steve Carr, London, UK
It has been said time and time again that the way to prevent STDs is to stay with one partner for ever. Call it marriage or what ever you like. Until we except that it is promiscuity which spreads STDs and actively campaign against "random sex" the problem will always be with us.
15 Dec 00 | Health
Unsafe sex 'triggers' more disease
15 Dec 00 | Q-S
Sexually transmitted diseases
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