Teen sex campaign backfires

by ROBIN YAPP, Daily Mail

A dramatic rise in sexually-transmitted diseases among teenagers is being fuelled by Government efforts aimed at reducing unwanted pregnancies, an expert has warned.

The strategy has been a double disaster because not only has it had a serious impact on health, but it has also increased the number of pregnancies by encouraging promiscuity.

Professor David Paton says infection rates have rocketed by 30 per cent among 16 to 19-year-olds since the launch of Labour's £63million Teenage Pregnancy Strategy five years ago.

The biggest increases have occurred in areas where most has been done to promote family planning services, adding to evidence that the Government's approach to young people's sexual health has simply encouraged them to take more risks.

Morning-after pill had 'adverse impact'

Professor Paton's analysis shows that free provision of the morning-after pill in pharmacies and in school clinics has also had an adverse impact.

Figures show that increasing young people's access to family planning advice and emergency contraception leads them to have more sex.

The professor, an economist at Nottingham University Business School, will tell the Royal Economic Society's annual conference in Swansea today that the rise in risk-taking behaviour seems to have "outweighed any positive impact of family planning policies".

A report last week from the National Office of Statistics showed that sexually-transmitted diseases in the under-20s have doubled in the last decade.

It highlighted particular concern over soaring rates of chlamydia, which often goes undiagnosed as it has few symptoms and can make victims infertile.

It also revealed that the average age at which youngsters lose their virginity dropped from 17 in 1990 to 16 in 2000 and a quarter of 16 to 19-year-olds admitted having had sex before they were 16.

Switching sexual partners

Almost one in six girls aged 16 and 17 has used the morning-after pill, it said, and many young people frequently switch from one sexual partner to another and often fail to use condoms.

Figures uncovered by Professor Paton last month showed pregnancies in under-18s rose by 800 - 7.3 per cent - between 2001 and 2002 after years of decline.

The UK has the highest rate of pregnancies in this age group in Europe - with almost half resulting in abortion - and experts say it will struggle to meet its target of halving teenage conceptions by 2010.

Professor Paton believes that helping teenagers to achieve better grades and get more fulfilment from school is a better way to reduce pregnancy rates than current strategies.

In his latest research he analysed data on sexually-transmitted diseases from the 99 local health authorities across England between 1998 - the year before the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy began - and 2001.

Teenagers suffering a sexual disease increased from 93 per 10,000 in 1998 to 119 in every 10,000 in 2001 - an increase of 24 per cent. The picture was even worse among 16 to 19-year-olds, rising from 110 per 10,000 to 143 per 10,000 - a 30 per cent rise.

He also found that between 1999 and 2001 the proportion of teenagers claiming to be sexually inactive fell from 39 per cent to 27 per cent.

Professor Paton said: "The most notable feature about my results is a significantly positive correlation between increases in family planning services and increases both in rates of chlamydia and in rates of those sexually-transmitted infections where the symptoms are more noticeable.

"When you introduce policies that seem to be obvious, it is important to factor in the possibility that the policies may actually cause people to change how they behave.

"In this case, it appears that some measures aimed at reducing teenage pregnancy rates induced changes in teenage behaviour that were large enough not only to negate the intended impact on conceptions, but to have an adverse impact on another important area of sexual health - sexually-transmitted infections."

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