As many people approach the end of their school days and are looking to move to University or go off on holiday with their mates for perhaps their first "big holiday", maybe we should consider a nasty, unspeakable menace lurking in the underwear of an unlucky few. Maybe it is British reserve, but it is a subject which I believe is sadly neglected by parents and authorities. There is a collective head in the sand attitude to the issue.
A few years ago a group of students were shown pictures of 100 people, 20 of whom had a sexually transmitted disease. They were asked to guess which of the 20 had an STD. A rather strange pattern emerged. The 20 most commonly picked were also picked out by a separate group of students as being the ugliest. Would it surprise you to find out that of the 20 picked out, 4 actually had an STD. In short the statistical probability of the people picked having an STD was exactly the same as the larger group of 100. Oddly, the 20 most attractive actually had 6 people with an STD a rate 50% higher (although with such a small sample, not really statistically significant).
In recent years there has been a substancial increase in the rate of STD's amongst younger people in the UK. For example the number of new diagnoses of genital warts in GUM clinics in the UK
has increased by almost 30 percent since 1999. Genital warts
are the most common viral STD diagnosed in the UK: in 2008
there were 92,525 diagnoses of genital warts in UK GUM clinics.
The highest rates of diagnoses were among women aged 16-19 and
men aged 20-24.
We have to ask the question as to what exactly we are doing wrong with regards to sex education. Telling anyone (young, middle aged or older) not to have sex is simply unrealistic and flying in the face of human nature. I suspect that STD's will always be with us, but there are plenty of things which the government could do to lessen the impact.
Here are a few things I believe we should consider
1) All students should be tested for STD's on enrollment at University, as a compulsory measure. Any students identified could be given a course of treatment. There is a good reason for this. During the first term (especially during freshers week), students are statistically far more likely to have sex with a stranger than at any other time during their University career. Ensuring all students were aware of any issues and hopefully treated for them would significantly reduce the chance of onward transmission. There are many reasons for the likelyhood, being "on your own" and able to get plastered should not be underestimated as a factor.
2) A significant factor in the transmission of diseases is teenagers on nightclub holidays. Telling people that they shouldn't have sex with strangers in Ibiza or other hotspots is quite simply not going to work. What may be a more productive avenue is to educate them to have an STD test on return, if they've had sex with a stranger (or multiple strangers). I would word the leaflets along the lines "If you meet someone you really like and then you give them a dose, that will be the end of a lovely relationship".
3) This is the hardest one of all. I would urge parents to make sure their kids get a test if they've been having unprotected sex with strangers, be it at freshers week, in the toilets in a nightclub in Ibiza or behind the bike sheds at the Dog & Duck. I doubt that many parents want to think they may be "a normal teenager" when it comes to their sexual desires and appetite, and may be shagging around, but if you really care about them, make sure they take care of themselves.
I'd urge everyone to check out this website - http://www.avert.org/std-statistics-uk.htm - and give these issues some thought. Now is an excellent time for those of us with teenagers to consider these issues. In a month or so, those doing A Levels will be ready to leave school, maybe go on holiday with their mates and then go to University. We all think that such things never happen to us or our children. I hope that for all of us this is true. Sadly the statistics tell us a different story. Give this some consideration.
And sorry if I ruined your breakfast this morning, especially if you got lucky with a total stranger last night.