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First national sexual health campaign in eight years to highlight STI risk using emojis

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A national sexual health campaign featuring emojis has been launched to encourage condom use by young adults in order to reduce “too high” rates of sexually transmitted infections in England.

Public Health England has today launched Protect against STIs, a new campaign that aims to reduce the rates of STIs among 16- to 24-year-olds through condom usage.

“Rates of STIs among young people continue to be too high”

Gwenda Hughes

It is the first government sexual health campaign in eight years and is backed by a new YouGov survey of 2,007 young people on current attitudes towards condom use.

The findings revealed that 47% of sexually active young people said they have had sex with someone new for the first time without using a condom, while one in 10 said they had never used one.

The new research also revealed that sexual health appeared to be a “challenging topic” for young adults to discuss, as 56% of men and 43% of women said it was difficult to talk about with friends.

Furthermore, 58% of those surveyed said that if they had an STI they would find it difficult to talk to their sexual partner about it.

In addition, twice as many respondents cited their main reason for using condoms was to avoid pregnancy (58%), rather than to avoid getting an STI (29%).

“Condoms remain essential in the fight against STIs, as well as HIV

Elizabeth Carlin

In 2016, there were over 141,000 chlamydia and gonorrhoea diagnoses in people aged between 15 and 24 in England and 59% of all those diagnosed with an STI were among this age group.

PHE said the new campaign aimed to raise awareness of the serious consequences of STIs, for example, infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease – an infection of the female upper genital tract, including the womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries – swollen or painful testicles and even meningitis.

Gonorrhoea was a particular concern, said PHE, because it was becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, and may become untreatable in the future.

The campaign will specifically highlight the increased likelihood of contracting an STI if having sex without a condom and that many STIs are symptomless, including seven in 10 cases of chlamydia.

The campaign aims to help “normalise and encourage” condom use in young people, as 32% of young adults surveyed said they had never seen a condom mentioned in sex scenes on TV or in films.

It will start with a nationwide digital advertising campaign targeting young people and featuring “real people talking about their own personal experiences of having an STI”. The identities of the individuals will not be shown but will be animated by emojis.

Gwenda Hughes, head of STI Surveillance at PHE, said: “Rates of STIs among young people continue to be too high and it is concerning that many sexually active young people are not using condoms with new partners.

Public Health England

Campaign to cut sexual infections by encouraging condom use

PHE campaign logo

“Six in 10 chlamydia and gonorrhoea diagnoses are in those under 25 years of age, so we need to remind young people of the importance of using condoms with a new or casual partner to help prevent infection,” she said.

The campaign is also being supported by a range of partners, including the Family Planning Association, Durex and the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH).

Tom Haywood, senior brand manager at Durex UK, said: “We want young people to know that sex can be fun and safe, if you wear a condom.

“There is still a perception for many that condoms reduce pleasure and fun, but condoms should be a key part of positive sexual activity as they help protect against STIs,” he said.

BASHH president Dr Elizabeth Carlin said the association was “delighted to support this important new campaign”.

“It is both timely and crucial given the high rates of sexual infections in young people, many of whom do not have symptoms,” she said. “Condoms remain essential in the fight against STIs, as well as HIV.

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