Shockingly, one in 10 said they had never used a condom at all.
The poll of 2,007 young people offered an insight into the blasé attitudes towards condom use. It has prompted PHE to launch a campaign sharing young people’s personal stories about contracting sexual transmitted infections (STIs).
Jesse, aged 24, from London, said she contracted both chlamydia and gonorrhea after not using condoms.
“It wasn’t a nice experience,” she explained. “They caused pain in my groin and discomfort when urinating. The worst of it, though, was having to tell my previous and current sexual partner that I had contracted the STIs, so they also needed to get checked and treated.
“I had symptoms, but I know there are so many people who don’t, so now when having sex with someone new I will definitely use a condom.”
PHE’s ‘Protect against STIs’ campaign aims to reduce the rates of sexually transmitted infections among 16-24 year olds by encouraging condom use. It is the first Government sexual health campaign in eight years.
Sexual health is a challenging topic for young adults to discuss - 56% of men and 43% of women said it’s difficult to talk about STIs with friends. Furthermore, 58% said that if they had an STI they would find it hard to talk to their sexual partner about it.
In 2016, there were over 141,000 chlamydia and gonorrhoea diagnoses in people aged 15-24 in England.
The campaign aims to raise awareness of the serious consequences of STIs, which can cause infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease (an infection of the female upper genital tract, including the womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries), swollen or painful testicles and even meningitis.
Gonorrhoea is a particular concern because it is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics and may become untreatable in the future.
The campaign will be highlighting the increased likelihood of contracting an STI when having sex without a condom and that many STIs are symptomless, including seven in 10 cases of chlamydia.
Twice as many young people said the main reason for using condoms is to avoid pregnancy (58%), rather than to avoid getting an STI (29%).
‘Protect Against STIs’ launches on 15 December with a nationwide digital advertising campaign targeting young people, where real people talk about their own personal experiences of having an STI. The identities of the individuals will not be shown but will be animated by emojis.
Gwenda Hughes, head of STI surveillance at Public Health England, said: “Rates of STIs among young people continue to be too high and it is concerning that many sexually active young people are not using condoms with new partners. Six in 10 chlamydia and gonorrhoea diagnoses are in those under 25 years of age, so we need to remind young people of the importance of using condoms with a new or casual partner to help prevent infection.”
Dr Sara Kayat, TV doctor and campaign supporter, added: “Using a condom is the safest way to ensure that you avoid contracting STIs, such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea.
“Whilst many STIs are symptomless, contracting them can have serious health consequences if left untreated and even lead to infertility.
“As I tell patients in my clinic every week, it’s just not worth putting yourself at risk by not using a condom.”