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Playing Russian Roulette with Sexual Health
Too much faith is placed in condoms as a means of improving the nation's sexual health, according to the Family Education Trust. In a new factsheet, which is being mailed to all secondary schools in the UK this week, Trevor Stammers warns that reliance on condoms could actually increase the number of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to which sexually active people - especially young people - are exposed.
Dr Stammers, a GP with over 20 years of experience, describes reliance on condoms as a form of sexual Russian Roulette. The user failure rate of the condom as a means of preventing pregnancy is estimated at 14%, which means that one woman in seven relying on it will become pregnant in a year, but this failure rate is not evenly spread across ages and types of relationships. Older monogamous couples can use it with a failure rate of only 1%, but amongst teenagers the risk is much higher. There is also the phenomenon of risk displacement: confidence in the condom may persuade people to be more sexually active with multiple partners, thus exposing themselves to higher risks.
The protection provided by condoms is even more problematic in relation to sexually transmitted infections, which are reaching epidemic proportions amongst young people. Pregnancy can only occur during a few days of each menstrual cycle, but STIs can be transmitted at any time. Most evidence of condom effectiveness in preventing STIs is in relation to HIV, which has a low level of infectivity. HIV/AIDS affects only small numbers of people in the UK, and the Family Education Trust has already called for funds to be transferred from HIV/AIDS to other conditions more likely to present a risk to the general population. (See the submission to the House of Commons Health Committee's Inquiry into Sexual Health, accessible on the website www.famyouth.org.uk/Inquiry.pdf)
Human Pappiloma Virus (HPV) is the most common STI in the UK, and can be a cause of both cervical and anal cancers, but there is no evidence that condoms are effective in preventing its transmission. Chlamydia, which affects up to 10% of sexually active women, and which can be a cause of infertility, also might not be prevented by condoms.
Dr Stammers suggests replacing campaigns for 'safer sex' with an awareness of the benefits of 'saved sex', by means of which 'sex is saved for a time when the relationship between the partners is at such a level of intimacy and commitment that they are able to make a reasoned decision that, once having made love, they will go on making love together exclusively with each other for the rest of their lives'.
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Family Education Trust
The Family Education Trust was founded in 1971 to carry out research into the causes and consequences of family breakdown, and to publicise the findings of such research. The Trust has always made the welfare of young people its special concern, and adopted the operating title of Family and Youth Concern to express this.
Trevor Stammers has over twenty years experience as a general practitioner in London. He is also an Honorary Senior Tutor in General Practice at St. George's Hospital Medical School. The author of Love Lies Bleeding and The Family Guide to Sex and Intimacy, he is also a spokesperson on sex education for the Family Education Trust.
Chairman: Arthur Cornell
Family & Youth Concern is the working title of the Family Education Trust, a company limited by guarantee No 3503533 and a registered charity No 1070500
Trustees: Ronald Butt CBE; Arthur Cornell MED, F.Coll.P; Betty, Lady Grantchester; Dr John Guly MB, BS, DMJ; Eric Hester BA; Simon J Ling MA FCA (Hon Treasurer); Denis Riches BSc (Secretary); V alerie Riches; Dr Trevor Stammers BSc, MRCGP, DRCOG, DPAB; Robert Whelan
Sponsors: John Bonnar MA MD FRCOG; Peter Dawson OBE BSc FRSA; T he Baroness Elles of Westminster; Sir John Peel KCVO FRCS FRCP; J S Scott MD FRCS FRCOG; The Baroness Young DL
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