New figures have shown the number of sexually transmitted infections rose by 4% last year.
The Health Protection Agency warns that new cases of gonorrhoea and syphilis are continuing to rise in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Around 700,000 people a year are diagnosed with an STI, and more young people under the age of consent are also contracting Chlamydia than ever before.
Complacency about condom use, increased numbers of sexual partners and long waits for treatment are cited as the main causes.
How should the spread of sexually transmitted infections be dealt with? Should more be done at schools?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received so far:
Education! Education! Education! Everyone needs educating! More adverts like the Aids adverts of the 80s would make people more aware of the problem, and the government should stop cutting everything and start investing in the health of the nation!
It beggars belief that some of the comments in here advocate a return to the "good old days". I hope people are not promoting a return to the sex education I had in the 1960s. We were told "Read page 109 in your biology textbooks" - it was about reproduction in rabbits! Let's educate youngsters properly about sex and STIs - warts and all.
Neil, Chesterfield, UK
Oh come off it. Kids know the risks but like so many of them, they just don't listen. I'm sick of hearing that we have to do more to protect them when they throw it back in our faces. Discipline - something they have yet to see - is needed.
I think the government needs to inject some much needed cash into centres for the testing of STIs. I have recently gone for a check and had to wait a week for an appointment and then a further 3 1/2 hours once I had arrived at the clinic. As society thinks STIs are shameful, more and more people will be put-off by going with these stupid processes they have to follow. Why not allow NHS walk-in centres to undertake these tests on the spot? It would make access to the system more easy and allow people to be tested quickly and without red tape getting in the way.
Rob Hosken, Bristol, England.
When I heard recently of fourteen year-old girls going to a party and bragging later on how many of the boys they could do in an evening I wondered what ever had happened to self-respect. Without that, no amount of education will prevent the spread of STIs.
Anon, London, UK
Maybe it is our great binge drinking culture that is causing people in their teens and upwards to ignore safe sex advice after a few pints... tackle binge drinking and you might see a corresponding drop in disease.
Ben, London, UK
It is a combination of ignorance, stupidity and poor morals which is to blame for this problem. There is too much ignorance about these diseases amongst the general population. There is too much stupidity when people think that they will not catch them because, "it won't happen to me". There are poor morals because ultimately promiscuity is what gives these bugs and fungi the chance to spread. More and better sex education is part of the answer. However, a lot of the answer depends of altering incorrect behaviour, not just giving people more knowledge. The former is infinitely more difficult than the latter.
David Newton, Leamington, UK
I think it's high time that more Christian values were taught, that children were treated as children and taught as such. That respect for others is taught once more. Maybe if everyone thought more of themselves they would concern themselves more with others too. These sort of diseases are caught and spread so rapidly because so few people think of the consequences.
Paul, Basingstoke, Hampshire
Why not call a spade a spade? Herpes may cause a little itchiness, but HIV can kill you stone dead in a year. The nanny state should spend less time singing nursery rhymes, and more time increasing consciousness among the youth. (Oh, I forgot - it's dangerous to tell the truth.) As a South African I can tell you that the UK has not yet seen the Aids peak by a long shot (Africa has already past its peak). HIV is experiencing exponential growth here. Wake up Tony!
Umlungu, London, UK
As someone has said, some STIs can be spread even when a condom is used. The fact is that there is a stigma attached to catching an STI so young people are embarrassed to go and get treated, and so the infection keeps getting passed on. We need to be more open about these things.
Better sex education is required. It was only a few years ago when I was being taught and quite frankly felt the information provided was nothing more than what I already knew! Also why not run a series of TV ads to educate people at peak times. We should be more open in our discussion on this subject!
Call me blunt, but I believe that British society is ridiculously prudish whenever sex is concerned. People feel uneasy and embarrassed whenever the subject is mentioned, therefore closing themselves up and being increasingly prone to misinformation. Look at Holland, Germany, France, Spain; in my travelling experiences the people a far more open-minded and don't make use of slang terms for sexual reference. Sex is a pleasure that should be enjoyed by everybody; such a relevant and important issue in everyday life should not involve petty prudity.
Mark Fulton, Santander, Spain
The first thing that should happen is no more explicit sex or sex programmes on television. Second, the government should stop trying to educate school children on the subject and leave that up to parents.
Newspapers, radio, music videos and even kids TV force feed us with sexual titillation. Like others I agree society needs to regain a sense of responsibility and self-respect before things improve.
When I was around 14, the Aids adverts were very prominent on TV, especially the one with the large gravestone. I remember being absolutely terrified by it and although it didn't stop me having sex, it made me make sure I was careful. For the first time getting pregnant wasn't the worst thing that could happen - you could die! Kids now don't get that kind of message. Maybe they need that.
Easy - abstinence.
The main place to start is education in schools. I left school 8 years ago, and I still remember the embarrassment of a wrinkly old granny (the biology teacher) showing us all how to put a condom on a banana! I doubt it's changed that much since then. Of course at the end of the lesson when she asked if there were any questions no hands went up - we were all so embarrassed we couldn't wait to get out of there! Children really need someone they can relate to when having such a sensitive subject discussed.
Thea, Winchester, UK
Society has changed permanently. Young people will have sex. Young people will contract sexually transmitted diseases. It is the way of the world today. Nothing you can do will change that, and looking back to the "halcyon days" of your childhood does not help. To those who want to move back to what was here before please highlight one occasion in the history of mankind where this has happened. The past is gone and can never be recovered.
Danny, London, UK
Society only has itself to blame. We're simply not teaching our children about respect, integrity, honour and fidelity. Everything seems to revolve around sex these days; TV, magazines, adverts, you name it. And we wonder why so many marriages fail? As a few here have already said, you reap what you sow...
Luke Dawson, Horsham, UK
No sex before marriage is not practical when house prices and increasing numbers of people in higher education mean that people can't get married until later in life. On the other hand, many people don't realise that a condom is not the answer to everything-there are several infections including genital warts and herpes that can be passed on even when using this method of contraception.
Anon, London UK
We need to encourage open conversation. This is such a taboo subject..... It shouldn't be in the 21st century. People are still embarrassed buying condoms? I do believe in the saying "forewarned is forearmed"'. We should not expect young people to make what could be, life threatening choices, if they have not been given the required information, in the required format. Can we stop treating young people with such authority!
Ruth Brewin, Coventry
The rise in STIs and unwanted pregnancies is the result of promiscuity which is part of our culture. The only way this increase is going to be reversed is if our culture was changed to one where the media no longer sexualises teenagers and 'teenies' and where young people are encouraged to have enough self-respect to wait until they are at least the age of consent (preferably older) and in a long term, stable relationship before having sex.
Jadzia, Milton Keynes
The Government promote random drug testing in schools, why not random STI screening? The biggest problem is identifying the infected early enough to prevent further infection and to provide any effective treatment.
David R, Plymouth UK
It may not be a popular idea, but a move back towards a society in which self-control, discipline and accountability are the norm would help. We live in an age of "it's someone else's problem" and "why should I care what other people think?'. The names that used to describe someone who slept around a lot used to be a serious insult - now they mean very little, if anything. The UK needs to get some pride and self respect back, and fast!
Peter, Hastings, UK
I could not disagree more with the people here who regard the most natural act in the world as "immoral". Making sex a sin and something to be ashamed of is going in completely the wrong direction. If young people learn that sex outside of marriage is shameful, they certainly will not want to ask an older person for advice about sex and diseases or go to a clinic for a check up. Kids should be told as much as possible about all aspects of sex, including protecting themselves and emotional responsibility, but without attaching the stigma which some Victorian-minded prudes seem to think it deserves.
People are "fed" sex so they "do" sex - it's that simple. Stop polluting the minds of people and you might start to see a drop in STIs
Hamil Miles, London, UK
I agree with Nicola that STI screening should be routinely performed alongside the cervical smear test. Cervical cancer itself is a sexually transmitted disease (caused by viral infection) & if we face that fact head on, people might be more motivated to avoid sex without a condom. Young people need to be educated about safe sex by other young people. As a teacher, you recognise that you come with a sell-by date, after which your advice comes from the last generation & therefore something to be unheeded. Perhaps having squads of gap-year students trained to visit schools would work..... or volunteers from a neighbouring university.
I'm not a religious person, but the phrase 'as you reap so shall ye sow' springs to mind here. If parents can't be bothered to control their kids, then the kids will inevitably turn out to be ill-mannered, obnoxious people who fight, drink in excess and sleep with anyone they fancy. This is evidenced in any town centre on any night of any weekend in the UK. It's a cycle of destruction, and do-gooders need to start realising that easing up on disciplining children has far-reaching implications.
Martin, Reading, UK
Education and more education. I have been sexually promiscuous for 5 years and only went to a GU clinic because my partner insisted on it before we slept together. I was shocked and surprised to find out I had Chlamydia-I was unaware that this infection very often shows no outward symptoms. After a course of antibiotics it's cleared and I have learned from the episode - don't ever think it won't happen to you cause it can and will. Why was I only given information for this when I went for the test? Surely that's bolting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Increased sexual promiscuity or 'changes in sexual behaviour' is cited as one of the main reasons sexually transmitted infections have risen so much in the past year. Surely then, a decrease in sexual promiscuity would have the opposite effect? Or how about abstinence outside of marriage? That would be even safer. Just don't try and suggest that in public, it offends those worshipping the golden calf of sexual immorality.
Aaron, United Kingdom
Several suggestions. Stop the popular media sexualising kids at an age where they are not ready to cope with the new levels of hormones pumping through their bodies. Teach people to value their bodies and souls a lot more, and not give themselves over to others so easily. The simple fact is: that the more partners you have, the higher your risk of infection becomes, whether that's through casual relations or serial monogamy. Physical protection works but is not infallible, because neither people nor products are infallible either. People need to be responsible. Personally, I'll wait till I'm wed... and that doesn't do me any favours in the world's eyes... but why should I let that bother me?
Nick, Warks, UK
Education, education, education. We're still too prissy and/or squeamish to tell it like it is. Children of secondary school age need to be shown the effects that STIs can have, by which I mean photos of affected body parts: if anybody thinks these are in any sense lurid or titillating, then perhaps they need to look too! Rotting, cankerous flesh doesn't do it for me - and it might just make people think twice.
Better sex education needs to be addressed - parents complain that it isn't right for young children to be taught about it, but how many parents understand about STIs anyway? Sex education isn't just about getting pregnant - it is about the emotional issues and other effects as well!
There needs to be a focus-shift away from sex education back to the days when parents and teachers told their kids its wrong to have sex outside of marriage.
I disagree 100% with Richard regarding a move back to sex education revolving around marriage-only sex. It just won't happen and nor should it. It is possible to enjoy an active sex life with a number of partners without incurring unnecessary risk. That is where education and parental guidance has a major role. The article makes a valid point regarding complacency and it is that that needs to be tackled.
Quite simply, it's stupidity. Going back to the old idea of abstaining before marriage is ludicrous but so is the lack of responsibility demonstrated by many people. It's insane that in this age of boundless information that some people do not educate themselves. It's more symptomatic of a lazy nation than any morality or abstention issue.
Andy, Bath, UK
It's easy, parents find out about and talk to your children about sexual health. The problem today is that parents don't talk to their children about anything.
John, Cambridge, UK
Hot on the heals of the Drug Abuse and Terror pamphlets, maybe the government should spend a fortune commissioning a sex education booklet? Alternatively they could keep up their election problems and invest in Education/Health Service resources...or is that too simple a view?
Andy D, Oxford UK
A good start would be to tell people where and how to get screened. I listened to a long discussion this morning on Radio 4 on this subject and not once did any of the experts tell people how to find this information. I have the internet, a telephone and privacy to find these things out - how are teenagers going to manage?
Katherine, London, UK
Other than every person in the world remaining celibate, there's not a lot that can be done.
It is very easily avoided. Do not have sex.
Why is it laughed at to suggest that our culture could do with a little injection of "self respect" and just a little bit more "abstention" before agreeing to have sex with people. My view is simply that if you go around having sex with lots of people you get STIs. It is obviously true and so I have little sympathy for those who get them.
James in Cogeshall may one day discover that he doesn't have to be promiscuous to get an STI. On the same day he will probably hope that his doctor is sympathetic rather than damning. The only way to tackle STIs is open, honest discussion and early treatment. Moralising is counter-productive and often misses the point.
MF, Southampton, UK
How about making STI testing easier? This spread is being fuelled by ignorance, but few people are going to book an appointment and travel to their GUM clinic "just in case". I think the least that should be done is offering tests for common STIs when women attend for smear tests.
Nicola, Cambridge, UK
Why the surprise? Today's media have allowed young people to dictate programming, such as Big Brother. With the loss of quality programming such as Tomorrow's World, there is no alternative for today's youth but hedonism. We reap what we sow.
Alex, London, England