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Why do young people think it's OK not to use a condom?

Published : Friday May 11, 2012 | Posted in : Sexual Health
safe sex

Sexually transmitted infections are on the increase in young people and according to the media anything is to blame, including Facebook. By the looks of it, nobody knows where to start dealing with the problem; however, there seems to be some consensus in the idea that it is primarily a socio-economic issue. According to a study conducted by the organisation Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children, it appears that there is a clear difference in sexual health depending on a young person's age, gender and financial situation, particularly in Europe. This is hardly surprising news.

However, there are also inherent social issues contributing the spread of STIs, such as the survey results reported by TheSite.org, a website run by the charity YouthNet, would indicate. According to the results, the majority of young people think it's safe to have sexual intercourse without a condom if a girl says she is using the pill. The survey results also showed that a third of young people contracted an STI by having unprotected sexual intercourse with someone while they were inebriated. Of those, 50% who contracted an STI didn't get a test right after they had unprotected sex.

It's easy to judge, but I think this is largely due to a lack of awareness about the importance of condom use. Most of the campaigns in the past tend to focus on making people aware of the fact that they should get tested, which obviously is also important, but now I think we need to see more campaigns about using condoms. Condoms get such bad publicity. It's almost like using one is seen as a major turn-off, when they should rather be seen as a default 'accessory' used when having sex with a new partner.

According to experts involved in the studies, people aren't making informed choices about their sex life when they are younger, which eventually leads to bad sexual health choices when they get older. So ideally, campaigns or sexual health services should be able to influence people when they are young, as this is when people are more likely to experiment sexually. This ensures that good habits are carried forward.

Although I think most of us have a theoretical understanding of the importance of using a condom, implementing it in the heat of the moment is the tricky part. Making informed choices can also become more difficult when alcohol is involved. As the survey showed, it's very common for young people to contract sexually transmitted infections during drunken one-night-stands, which also needs to be tackled. These scenarios will always occur, but I don't think many people are prepared to deal with these situations if they arise. It would be foolish to assume that people will stop drinking, but maybe more emphasis should be placed on helping young people drink sensibly or prepare themselves better for drunken sexual encounters. The below chart, compiled using data from the YouthNet study, show which age groups were less likely to take contraception seriously when under the influence.

Although dealing with socio-economic unfairness forms part of the solution, more immediate campaigns are required to make people aware of the importance of condoms. Jamaica recently made the headlines with their Jamaican Ministry of Health's National HIV/STI Programme that featured a rap song to promote condom use to appeal to young people, however it was argued that it was chauvinist. It is however not the only country writing songs about condom-use, with places like India and Cameroon also trying to encourage the use of condoms in the younger generation. Apparently writing songs promoting condom use is quite common and the IPPF (International Planned Parenthood Federation) is running a Twitter campaign to help compile a list of the top ten condom songs.

In Alaska, one university is sending out condoms with QR codes, which will allow social media fans to scan the code, and then type in, anonymously, the location, as well as other details of their sexual encounter into a website called Where did I wear it? and in Brazil similar social media campaigns are being employed to help create condom awareness. I am not entirely sure whether this is likely to work, but it's interesting to see that there are organizations that thinking outside the box to appeal to young people.

The UK might not need a condom rap song or QR coded condoms, but it definitely needs something to drive home the fact that unsafe sex can be dangerous it's better to be safe. Click here for more information on condom dos and don'ts.

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