This morning I chaired a session at the Westminster Health Forum Keynote Seminar: Sexual Health & Young People.
The session was entitled Beyond the School Gates: Providing Support and Communicating With Young People.
The delegates were from a variety of backgrounds, including media, GPs, policy and decision makers, the voluntary sector and civil servants.
Throughout the session it struck me that the discussion focused on dealing with the consequences of teenage sex, in the form of STIs and pregnancy; whereas the fundamental problem, the fact that sex is now regarded as a recreational pastime, no relationship required, is largely ignored.
It is a fact that first date sex is now the norm, as is sex before the age of sixteen. I hate to bore you but if you are a regular reader of this blog you will know that we have the highest rate of abortions in Europe, along with the highest rate of STI’s.
So, why is the message focussed on access to sexual health advice, GUM clinics, pee in a pot drop in centres, guaranteeing treatment for an STI within 48hrs - and not on addressing why it is that in the UK we have an STI epidemic amongst our under 21s?
Why is there no focus on what is happening to the fabric of our society?
I am not saying that we should re evaluate priorities, we need speedy access to treatment when faced with rampant Chlamydia and Syphilis being diagnosed for the first time in 20 years.
Restricted access means the same infection will spread quickly within any one community rapidly if left un-treated for weeks.
But we do need a more holistic approach. Trouble is, the thorny issues of how we got here and why - the moral and ethical dilemmas - do not fit neatly into the political profile of any party; therefore questions regarding the rights and wrongs of teenage behaviour, and social attitudes towards sex, are brushed under the carpet. Much easier to focus on how quickly we can get treatment to an infected sixteen year old, than how we get the same sixteen year old to think twice before having sex again, until at least within the confines of a stable relationship.
I was surprised to see the Department of Health focusing on a campaign targeting the use of condoms. Why?
Well it took a vast amount of money, and frankly, as these posters show designed by university students for a Durex competition, Durex did it so much better. The money that the Department of Health spent on their campaign could have been used on developing a national standard for sex education within schools, which taught the principles of self respect and at least began to address the issue of values, morals and ethics within education and wider society.
The former editor of Australian Cosmopolitan told us that magazine editors take their jobs incredibly seriously.
I am sure they do. I am also sure that one of the few lines of communication into the teenager’s world is through the pages of teen magazines.
And yet, despite the title of the seminar – Beyond the School Gates: Providing Support and Communicating with Young People - outside of education, the valuable role of teenage media was hardly discussed.
I learnt a great deal this morning about the good practice happening, and the commitment of people working within this field.
It would be good, however, to see the government taking a braver role, involving the private sector, and adopting a more imaginative ethical approach.
The problem is about more than gimmicky initiatives. In some cases it’s about life or death. Each one of us, either in government or opposition, are failing our teenagers if we sit back and allow the modern day fascination with objectives, spin and targets to prevail.