We’re falling out of love with safe sex


One person is diagnosed in the UK with an STI every 70 seconds. Six in ten of all STIs diagnoses are from people aged 15-24. Coming at a time when talking about sex is improving with shows like ‘Sex Education’ hailed as a breath of fresh air.

One person is diagnosed in the UK with an STI every 70 seconds

So why is this still happening? Young people are statistically more likely to worry about pregnancy than the contraction of a sexually transmitted infection (STI). 58% of young people in a YouGov poll said they use contraception to prevent pregnancy, while 29% said they use condoms to prevent STIs.

This can mean that young people use contraception that prevents pregnancy but not STIs. There is evidence to support this conclusion – NHS sexual health services have seen a spike in the uptake of long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) like the implant, injection and intrauterine devices (IUDs, or better known as the coil). These options avoid us having to remember to buy or correctly apply them in the dark and are seen as the more effective option.

Meanwhile, there is a lot of anxiety around condom usage. Firstly, the pressure to go and buy them in the first place.But also the pressure for men during sex while using a condom has resulted in experts dubbing it condom-associated erection problems (CAEP). Triggers include nerves or the condom being too tight or loose. The same issue exists in a form with women too, as women can experience soreness from condom usage. All these issues are not talked about during sex education, instead it is deemed something someone must find out for themselves for the first time.

How can we revive the movement back to safe sex?

This moves us on to why sex education in this country is still poor. The government is consistently making new strides towards effective education and are set to make major improvements; from this spring, there will be new requirements for secondary sex education to include STIs, pregnancy, contraception and miscarriage. The downside of this is that parents can still specifically request for their children not to be involved, and as we saw with the introduction of specific relationship education that includes LGBTQ+ families, different communities can be in conflict about what their children should be exposed to.

So how can we revive the movement back towards safe sex? Sex education, which should be a compulsory part of all young people’s lives, needs to focus on what sex is actually like – the positives and negatives – rather than scaremongering about pregnancy for girls and a ‘look at all these horrible diseases’ attitude for everyone.

Condom usage should always be promoted, but with an emphasis that there are a variety of sizes, textures and types that will eventually work for everyone, rather than just the push to use them in the first place. STI checks should not be viewed as ‘dirty’ but part of a sex-positive mentality that puts emphasis on keeping yourself, and partners, safe.

Perhaps one day sex education will appear less as we once knew it, and more like the opening page to a fully detailed instruction manual

Image: Steven Lee via Flickr

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