Sexual Health Crisis

ACCORDING TO a report by the Commons Health Committee, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) amongst young people are rife, creating a major health crisis. Since 1996 rates of syphilis have increased by 486%, chlamydia by 108% (one in ten young people are estimated to have it) and gonorrhoea by 87%.

Sarah Mayo

These are disturbing figures. Many conservative critics will say this is the result of young people having more sex at a younger age. However, even if this is true, the answer does not lie in moralising about this change in teenagers’ sexual behaviour.

What is key, is that young people are increasingly not using condoms – the only contraceptive method that prevents the transmission of STDs.

This is a big change from the 1980s, when, following massive publicity about the Aids scare, many started to practise ‘safe sex’. However, when the Aids epidemic failed to materialise in Britain, many became complacent. Yet 6,500 new cases of HIV were diagnosed last year.

The fact is that sexual health centres are under-resourced, under-funded and overcrowded, patient waiting lists for specialists can be up to six weeks and diagnostic equipment is out of date. This is consistent with the crisis in the NHS as a whole, the result of years of underfunding and backdoor privatisation, first by the Tories and now continued by New Labour.

The second key question is the inadequate and ineffective provision of sex education in schools and the lack of readily available contraceptives, particularly for those under 16.

With the notorious and reactionary Section 28 prohibiting the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality, many students feel they can’t be open about their sexuality. Meanwhile faith-based schools can opt out of providing sex education and parents can withdraw their children from such classes.

The only concrete proposal MPs on the health committee have put forward is a recommendation that an immediate nation-wide screening programme for chlamydia is implemented and that health workers should visit youth clubs and bars. At present, only a limited provision of such screening is available.

However, a nation-wide screening would cost about £96 million a year, which is currently twice the amount the government is setting aside for its entire sexual health strategy! It remains to be seen whether ‘prudent’ Brown will find this money.

The irony is that British society is on one level becoming increasingly sexualised – more and more explicit and sometimes pornographic images (usually of women) are used to sell everything from shampoo, cars, and life insurance – but in fact the powers that be are unable or unwilling to confront and tackle the modern realities of sex in an open and upfront way.

Capitalism is happy to exploit and degrade human sexuality for a quick profit but is incapable of providing a decent sexual health and education service.