British sex education is failing our teens, with scarily high statistics concerning STIs in younger people revealing that new reported cases of infections are at an all time high.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils across England and Wales, has argued that a lack of compulsory Sex Education in schools is creating a major health protection issue among young people.
The LGA highlighted that in 2015, a staggering 141,000 new cases of STIs were reported in people aged 20-24, and 78,000 in teens aged 15-19. Sexual Health is a major part of local government public health spending, with a reported £620m spent on chlamydia testing and treatment alone in 2011.
Despite these statistics, young people seem unconvinced that they are at risk of developing an STI, regardless of health implications. In 2015, Research Associate Rosie Webster argued that younger people are having unprotected sex as they are less concerned with contracting an STI, perhaps because many of the diseases can be treated with antibiotics. Younger people, including heterosexuals at a high risk of STIs and HIV, were having unsafe sex as they severely underestimated this, and did not consider the consequences of their actions.
In the 6th annual Felix Survey for Imperial University (2016), a worrying 75% of students admitted that they were less likely to use a condom during a one night stand, and 44% of students admitted to never taking an STI test. The survey also found that 20% of medics used the pulling out method as contraception, which is in no way a foolproof form of practice.
What's more, there is a perception that condoms will reduce sexual sensation and cause irritation, however this is not the case if the right sized condom is being used. A lot of people aren't aware of the fact that condom sizing can vary depending on the brand, or perhaps are using a larger condom to boost their bravado without realising that they are therefore compromising their sexual health and pregnancy risk.
We've all seen those viral videos of girls adorning condoms on their limbs, but getting the right fit for condom sizing is really important. Just because a condom can double up as a makeshift mermaid tail doesn't mean it's going to be comfortable in use.
Condoms are perhaps the most essential item on the list when it comes to practising safe sex and protecting sexual health. A Superdrug Online Doctor survey of over 2,000 Americans and Europeans (2016) found that the top concern for women was that their partner wouldn't use a condom during sex, followed by the fear that their partner had an STI, the latter being the top concern for men.
If younger people are not being educated properly on the importance of using condoms, or are unphased by the concept of catching an STI on the basis that it is treatable, it's possible that they are missing out on vital information concerning the impact that untreated STIs have on fertility in later life. Chlamydia, for instance, is the most common cause for female infertility, affecting around 1 in 5 women. When left untreated, chlamydia can spread to the uterus and fallopian tubes, leading to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Like chlamydia, PID can often develop symptom-free, and so is diagnosed when it is too late. PID causes blocking and scarring of the fallopian tubes, which can lead to infertility, miscarriage, premature births and stillbirths.
Perhaps if the long term effects of untreated STIs were spoken about more frequently, then younger people would have a more serious stance on their sexual health. Yes, it's great that these infections can be treated, but it would be much better if they weren't spread in the first place. This is especially the case as certain strains of STIs including chlamydia, gonorrheoa and syphilis are becoming resistant to anitbiotics, as reported in 2016.
Making SRE compulsory will hopefully educate young people and encourage them to be proactive about their sexual health. What's more, educating people in school will allow them to carry this information into adulthood, and would therefore have a positive impact on sexual health for people of all ages.