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Young People’s Views on Sexual Health

Developments made in the UK concerning sex education are due to an increase in the number of Sexually Transmitted Infections, teenage pregnancy rates and relationship violence. Parents, teachers, politicians, healthcare providers and young people alike agree that there is a need to sort out issues facing sex education.

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However, religious groups have remained adamant to the proposed changes even when they are aware of the fact that sex education is not the sole cause of relationships tribulations and reproductive health problems among the youth (Petra, 2010). As Petra (2010) maintained, the ongoing sexual problems in the UK are large because of the fact that sex education is not delivered to the youth consistently and reliably. In some areas, sex is taught extensively while in others, it is poorly taught or even nonexistent (Wellings, Field, Johnson and Wordsworth, 1994).

Further, young people complain that sex education focuses on infections, contraception and avoiding pregnancy while avoiding other important issues of sexual health. They argue that facilitators should concentrate more on issues like feelings, desires, negotiation and communication (Petra, 2010). Young people deem such knowledge important because it allows them to put sex in an appropriate cultural context, which they can relate to (Petra, 2010).

Parents, on the other hand, greatly support sex education being taught in schools, though they worry that it might undermine what they say to their children at home. They are also worried about the possibility of their children getting the wrong message about sex given the unreliable nature of sex education in the region.

Faced with these issues and pressure from the public, the UK government in 2008 considered making sex education compulsory in a proposal that was to take effect in September 2011 (Petra, 2010). The Children and Families Bill recently passed in the parliament is one step towards making sex education possible even in religious-based schools as it grants schools the freedom to develop their own sex education curricula. This should have come as a relief to antagonists as Schools Minister, Ed Balls, has reconsidered making sex education compulsory. As a result, young people feel betrayed, as they are the ones who advocated for better provision of sex education. This standoff is a great disappointment especially to those who actively participated in the consultation process leading to the implementation of the proposed Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) curriculum.

Furthermore, the implementation process of the necessary groundwork has been slow hence potential barriers such as an election may increase chances of failure only adding to the uncertain state of affairs. From the look of things, it would be too ambitious to dream of compulsory sex education in the near future. Therefore, standards of teaching will still vary including the content and effective coverage. Schools will not have to teach sex education outside the curriculum. Hence, young people will not acquire adequate information that will help them enjoy healthy relationships. Parents, who are relying on schools to provide sex education, will have to educate their children themselves. In cases where parents are uncomfortable talking about sex with their children, the children will never be informed or will seek other sources, which, more often than not, are more harmful than helpful (Petra, 2010).

Nevertheless, there is hope for sex education in schools in the UK, but there will be a disagreement on content and material use across schools. Thus, some young people will be knowledgeable whereas the others will be misinformed due to incorrect information about sex. This leads youth to engage in sex without having the right information regarding contraception and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).

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There has been a substantial increase in diagnoses of STDs in the UK, especially among young people. The recent rise in STD diagnoses is attributed to high cases of testing, better diagnostic methods, and an increase in unprotected sex (Avert.org, 2011). According to statistics from Avert.org (2011), Chlamydia and genital warts remain the most common sexually transmitted bacterial and viral diseases respectively with young people aged between16-24 years are more likely to be diagnosed with an STD than older people. In the period 2005-2006, men aged 35-44 and 45-64 years recorded the largest increases in diagnoses of genital herpes while diagnoses among women were recorded in the lower age categories of 16-19 and 20-24 years (Avert.org, 2011). From a regional perspective, London, followed by the North West, Yorkshire, and the Humber had the highest rates of diagnoses (Avert.org, 2011). Other common STDs include syphilis and HIV (Petra, 2010).

Apart from Chlamydia and genital warts, diagnoses of gonorrhea in the UK also rose between 1999 and the 200s, but have since then declined steadily (Avert.org, 2011). High cases of gonorrhea diagnoses were reported among the black ethnic populations and homosexuals with men aged 20-24 years and women aged 16-19 having the highest rates of diagnoses (Avert.org, 2011). Even as gonorrhea cases decline in the UK, the increasing number of resistant strains of gonorrhea is a public health concern. Resistance means failure in the possibility of treatment hence increasing the period a person is infectious (Salisbury and Begg, 1996).

This rising figure of people diagnosed with STDs poses a serious health challenge. This is because there is a strain on clinics and the health sector in general in terms of funds, resources, and personnel. Yet, delays in accessing these facilities rapidly fuel the rise in STDs in the UK. This is because the longer an infected person remains untreated, the higher the chances of them passing on the infection (Salisbury and Begg, 1996). The government had thus set a target on waiting; starting 2008 all patients ought to be given an appointment to see a doctor within 48 hours. However, many hospitals are still unable to do this. Therefore, because of the public health white paper choosing health, 300 million pounds was allocated to improve health services (Webber, 2005). Another 50 million pounds was allocated for use in advertising campaigns to create awareness of the alarming rates of STD infections (Webber, 2005). The government is also adjusting other important divisions of sexual health services as a means to lowering the pressure in our clinics. This means that nurses have to offer health advice and care daily from community-based clinics, walk-in services, outreach programs and even accident and emergency departments (Webber, 2005).

As one of the efforts to better sexual health, the government of England, in July 2001, established Sexual Health and HIV Strategy for Consultation, Better Prevention Services and Sexual Health (Webber, 2005). This policy was aimed at reducing transmission of HIV and STIs, reducing widespread undiagnosed cases of STIs and controlling pregnancy rates (Webber, 2005). This strategy was to improve the health and social care of HIV-infected people. Most importantly, it was to tackle the issue of stigmatization of people diagnosed with STIs. This policy also promised national screening for Chlamydia in sexually active women and men under the ages of 25 (Webber, 2005). This is because Chlamydia is the most common STI and a serious reproductive health problem since it can lead to ectopic pregnancies, infertility and pelvic inflammatory diseases (Webber, 2005). The first phase of the program was carried out in September 2002 culminating into the setting up of an independent advisory group on sexual health in England in 2003 (RCN.org). This group monitors progress and advises the government on the implementation of the Sexual Health and HIV strategy (RCN.org).

Despite efforts to tackle the rise in STI infections, there are setbacks. For instance, there have been cases of misappropriation of the money allocated to improve sexual health services hence the poor state of the clinics remains the same. The 48 hours doctor-waiting target seems impossible given the workload in public clinics hence forcing patients to wait for more than 48 hours before receiving the services of a doctor. The national screening proposed by the government is facing financial problems and inadequate testing facilities. Hopefully, a permanent solution will be found to reduce the rising cases of STI infections.

Besides, various barriers stop people, especially teenagers from practicing safe sex. Young men are more concerned about their own personal consequences than what affects their partners (Larson, Tyden and Ekstrand, 2011). They have the notion that pregnancies are easily terminated, and thus don’t put much thought into other consequences of unprotected sex like contracting STIs (Curtis, Hoolaghan and Jewitt, 1995). Interference with spontaneity, pleasure reduction, fear of losing an erection, embarrassment, and distrust are major barriers to the use of contraception (Larson, Tyden, and Ekstrand, 2011). This mostly has to do with the men who often think that the use of condoms interferes with their pleasure (Kappax et al., 1993). The use of hormonal contraception like pregnancy pills by women also plays a big role in the practice of unsafe sex (Moss, 1992). Further, the inability to communicate about safe sex between partners and even between parents and their children also leads to rampant unprotected sex (Moss, 1992). For instance, men in relationships don’t like discussing the use of condoms.

STI infections have also proved to be a problem among older people in the population (Alcom, 1996). STI rates have doubled in the over 45-year age group of men in the past ten years with highest cases being among men aged 55-59 whereas women aged between 45 and 54 years are also at a high risk (Avert.org, 2011). Surveys show that older people are more prone to STIs as they are less likely to use condoms as opposed to younger people (Hoolaghan, Blache and Pidcock ,1993). This happens not because they don’t know the consequences of unprotected sex; if anything, they are more knowledgeable. However, most surveys focus on young people hence the perceived marginalization of sexual health studies among older women and men (Kippax et al., 1993).

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Irresponsible sexual behavior among older people is due to societal changes with high cases of divorce thus increasing chances of them getting involved with many other partners (Alcom, 1996). Relationships between older men and younger girls have also affected the incidences of STIs due to the crossover of age groups (King, 1993). Men in this age group are more likely to seek sex from prostitutes, which in almost all cases is unprotected. They also have the habit of visiting places like Thailand for sex holidays hence increasing their chances of infection with STIs. (Wellings, Field, Johnson and Wordsworth, 1994)

In conclusion, sexual health is a very important component of public health in the UK. Issues concerning it such as standard sex education in schools, rise in the spread of STDs, availability of health care facilities, and funding have to be dealt with. In as much as the government has shown some progress in tackling these issues, there still remains a need for more action. Furthermore, citizens especially those that are sexually active, also have to play their part by practicing safe sexual behaviours.

References

Alcom, K., 1996. AIDS reference manual. The 1st volume of the regularly updated multiple volume national AIDS manual. London: Nam Publications.

Avert.org, 2011. ‘STD statistics and STDs in the UK.’ [Online] Avert.org. Web.

Curtis H. ,Hoolaghan T. and Jewitt C. (eds.), 1995. Sexual health promotion in general practice. Oxford: Radcliffe Medical Press.

Ekstrand, M., Tyden, T. and Larson, M., 2011. Exposing oneself and the one’s partner to sexual risk-taking as perceived by young Swedish men who requested a Chlamydia test. The European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health care, Vol. 16, No. 2, pp. 100-107.

Hoolaghan, T., Blache, G. and Pidcock, J., 1993. The role of general practitioners in HIV prevention: Findings from a questionnaire survey. The health promotion in general practice project. London: Camden and Islington Health Promotion Service.

Kappax, S., Connell, R., Dowsett, G. and Crawford, J., 1993. Sustaining safe sex: Gay communities respond to AIDS. London: The Falmer Press

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King, E., 1993. Safety in numbers. London: Cassell.

Moss, A., 1992. HIV and AIDS: Management by the primary care team. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Petra, B., 2010. ‘Young people betrayed as sex education in UK unlikely to be statutory.’ Web.

RCN.org. ‘Sex worker-policy.’ [Online] Roral College of Nursing. 2011. Web.

Salisbury, D. and Begg, N., 1996. The 1996 Immunization against infectious diseases. London: HMSO.

Webber, J. C., 2005. ‘Tackling the sexual health crisis head on.’ [Online] Nursing Times. Net. Web.

Wellings, K., Field J., Johnson A. and Wordsworth J., 1994. Sexual behavior in Britain: The national survey of sexual attitudes and lifestyles. London: Penguin.

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