Casual sex amongst young people is fuelling the spread of potentially fatal sexually transmitted infections (STIs), experts have warned.
In a new report, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) reveals that increased sexual activity has led to an increase in almost all STIs among young people since 1998.
Although 16 to 24-year-olds only make up twelve per cent of the population, half the country’s cases of STIs are found among this group, the report says.
Professor Peter Borriello of the HPA says casual sex is now “part of the territory, part of life” for young people.
The highest rates of diagnosed chlamydia and genital warts were reported among girls aged 16 to 19, the HPA says.
Young men who have sex with men are also particularly vulnerable: since 1998, cases of HIV among this group have doubled, and there has been a threefold increase in gonorrhoea diagnoses.
These diseases can lead to long-term health problems including infertility and cervical cancer, and can ultimately be fatal.
Groups such as the FPA (formerly known as the Family Planning Association) say that the problem should be tackled through more sex education.
The FPA recently called for sex education to begin at four years old, and is involved in a Government review of sex education which is about to make its recommendations.
But others say the current sex education approach has clearly failed and seems to have increased risk-taking behaviour.
Norman Wells of Family and Youth Concern said: “The answer does not lie in yet more sex education and contraceptive schemes, but in honestly telling young people the only sure way to avoid being infected with an STI is to keep sexual intimacy within the context of a lifelong, mutually faithful relationship with an uninfected partner.”