83% of young people surveyed by UNICEF UK and Terence Higgins Trust say they need a sexual health information service similar to the Government’s ‘Talk to Frank’ drugs service.
A new paper released today by UNICEF UK in collaboration with Terrence Higgins Trust, publishes results of an online survey of over 500 young people – the majority aged between 12 and 24 years – and in-depth interviews with a smaller group of selected individuals. It reveals that the majority of young people don’t know where to go for trusted information on sexual health. Three quarters surveyed said they rely on internet search engines and half depend on advice from peers.
The paper, entitled, ‘Sexual Health, Rights and Staying Safe’, also highlights how UK young people are more worried about the risk of pregnancy than about sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Lack of information and understanding about sexual health means that many who choose to become sexually active may be compromising their health by not using condoms, relying instead on other forms of contraception to protect against pregnancy. More than one in ten (13 per cent) sexually active young people surveyed reported never using condoms and 28 per cent admitted to using them only sometimes.
UNICEF UK and Terrence Higgins Trust are calling for improvements in access to youth-friendly sexual health services and information and better training for those teaching Sex and Relationship classes in schools.
Gareth Davies, spokesperson for Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “One in five young people who visited a sexual health clinic said that it was ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’. Many told us that it was an intimidating and awkward experience. If we’re to improve the sexual health of young people it’s crucial that services are geared up to meet their needs. One of the best ways that we can do this is by involving under 25s in the design and creation of sexual health services. Only by giving them a voice will we ensure that the sexual health needs of the next generation are met.”
David Bull, UNICEF UK’s Chief Executive said,” While we recognise the Government’s increased spending to improve the sexual health of young people in the UK, its clear from our research that young people themselves want and need better access to the information and services that will help them prevent STIs. They don’t feel they have one place where they can gain access to all the information they need on sexual health issues and 83 per cent told us they need a service, equivalent to the Government’s ‘Talk to Frank’ drugs information service. UNICEF knows from global experiences that youth-friendly information and services are key in the prevention of STIs. ”
“The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child places a duty on the UK Government to ensure that young people have access to the information and services they need to keep themselves healthy,” Bull continued. “Last October, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that the UK do more to improve the sexual health of young people . If our young people are also telling us that they need better information and access to services to help them stay healthy, then we must listen and take action”
When asked about accessing health services, a third of sexually active respondents said they hadn’t used a clinic at all. 70 per cent of them reasoned that they felt they didn’t need to, a fifth said they were too embarrassed or worried about judgement and one in ten said they didn’t know where their local clinic was.
UNICEF UK and Terrence Higgins Trust are calling for the Government’s quality assurance criteria for health services, ‘You’re Welcome’, to be implemented in all sexual health settings in the UK, which will work towards ensuring services are accessible to young people.
Commenting on this recommendation, Gillian Merron MP, Minister of State for Public Health, said: “We have done a great deal of work to improve local sexual health services which has had a real impact on the lives of young people, who are now able to access clinics more quickly and receive a better range of services.
“Sexual health must continue to be a key priority both in the NHS and in government. You’re Welcome is a vital part of how we will do more to halt the spread of sexually transmitted infections and reduce unintended pregnancies by involving young people in improving the services they need and use. I congratulate everyone involved in pulling together this report.”
In addition, the charities are also calling for young people to send an email to their local councillor, copying their MP in, to encourage them to work towards ensuring that local sexual health services are youth friendly. A new website, designed by UNICEF UK and Terrence Higgins Trust, has been specially created to help young people lobby their council on the issue: www.stayingsafe.org.uk.