New figures have shown the number of sexually transmitted infections rose by four per cent last year. Teenagers in particular are said to be ignoring 'safe sex' messages.
This begs the question: why? Is sex education really so crap?
Most schools have some form of sex education, some good, some just basic biology. But there still isn't that much to know about sex, certainly compared to, say, maths. Many schools also have some sort of 'life skills' class about sex, drugs and suchlike. People keep saying that school sex education is not what it should be, but the evidence points the other way. And for that matter, can we really expect teachers to confidently lead worthwhile discussions about sex with sneering, immature teenagers who probably aren't listening anyway?
(This isn't intended as an insult to teenagers: many years ago we were there at the back of the class, sniggering as Mr Wyatt, with his beard and blue polyester flares, turned an interesting shade of purple as he tried to explain sex with the help of a text book that included the sentence: 'The man and the woman are now very excited.' We're not making that up.)
Even if school sex education isn't much good, or you're off sick the day they do AIDS, you might just be able to learn something about sex from the TV, newspapers, magazines and the Internet. If you have access to none of these things, there are leaflets, helplines, friends, parents and prostitutes.
Frankly, there isn't much excuse for being ignorant about sex and STDs. So why are people failing to act on the advice they're given?
Well, the obvious answer is that you can give people all the good advice in the world, but some are still going to choose not to act on it.
Unfortunately, there's another possible answer, and it's this:
Some people are fucking thick.
Cast your mind back to school. There were always kids who'd put their hand in a boiling chip pan if someone told them not to do it. In this contributor's class there were two unbelievably dim girls who might as well have been genetically engineered, Rogue Trooper-style, to pack fishfingers. They'd come into class and relive their weekend adventures, which once involved one of them allegedly being so pissed they couldn't remember whether they'd fucked someone or not. The girl in question was quite proud of this. These girls were headed straight for crap jobs or unemployment, teen pregnancy, feckless arsehole boyfriends and the council house waiting list. And they thought it was great.
How on earth is anyone meant to penetrate this mentality, ie. people who seem to act against their own best interest? We're not being holier-than-thou here: we all do irresponsible or unwise things from time to time, but it's a question of degree. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with casual sex, but regularly putting yourself at risk of AIDS, herpes and other nasties is, ultimately, just a bit stupid.
If adults sleep around, that's their look out. But there's also the suspicion that, for the dreaded Young People, the problem of STDs (and for that matter teenage pregnancy) runs a bit deeper, and it's not going to be solved by more safe sex lessons.
Recently a study seemed to prove what most people suspected all along: deprived girls who perform poorly academically and have few career prospects are most likely not to have an abortion if they become pregnant, especially if they come from a family background where teen pregnancy was the norm.
It's not a huge leap of logic to suggest that irresponsible sexual behaviour by young teens is linked to a lack of aspirations and an absence of the sort of parental guidance that middle-class teens get (on the whole). The problem with saying this is that you start to sound like a Victorian moralist trying to save fallen women. But the lower down the social scale you are, the bleaker life seems to get, and the more impact bad decisions seem to have on your life. And if nothing else, it's somehow just not healthy for young teens to be dealing with adult experiences like sex and STDs.
Perhaps at a fundamental level, we need to break the cycle of people being brought up in crap environments which in turn cause them to make their own personal situations worse with self-defeating behaviour, whether it's getting a dose of the pox or teenage pregnancy.
But is anyone prepared to say STDs and teen pregnancies are class issues dressed up as social health issues?
You go first.