Close to half of sexually active 16 to 24-year-olds do not use a condom the first time they sleep with a new partner, according to a survey by Public Health England (PHE) and YouGov.
The survey contacted more than 2000 young people about their sexual habits and found that 1 in 10 had never used a condom, with more than a third thinking that carrying protection was a sign of promiscuity.
Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chair of the Royal College of GPs, found the figures ‘alarming’ and argued that they ‘highlight the genuine need for better access to good, sensible, sexual health education for everyone, including contraception and the potentially terrible impact of STIs, so we’re pleased that Public Health England is tackling the issue head on.’
PHE is launching the first government sexual health campaign in eight years in order to encourage the use of condoms by young people and prevent STIs from spreading. The main reason cited for not wearing a condom was sex ‘feeling better’.
Despite high rates of STIs in young people, more than half (58%) said their main reason for wearing a condom was to avoid pregnancy rather than infection – only 29% said they used condoms to avoid STIs.
‘The figures prove that we need urgent investment in sexual and reproductive health services in the community, both to protect the health of young people and to ensure progress that has been made over recent years is not reversed,’ said Prof Stokes-Lampard.
‘Since 1998, the teen pregnancy rate in England and Wales has halved, but the college is greatly concerned rates of teenage pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted diseases will rise unless more is done to reduce the barriers patients face to accessing contraceptives and other sexual health services.’
Responding to the findings, Gwenda Hughes, head of STI surveillance at PHE, 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.'