Although an estimated 25% of young people are sexually active by 15 years of age and this rises to 50% by the time they enter their final year of school, only 40% are practicing safe sex and using a condom. These were the findings of a survey conducted by GlaxoSmithKline which was carried out in conjunction with their campaign The Facts.

The Facts campaign is aimed at increasing awareness among young people of how easily sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be passed on. The campaign focuses on genital herpes, but also looks at Chlamydia and syphilis.

Surprisingly 65% of adolescents admitted that they had never been screened for an STI despite the fact that they were sexually active and with most having had more than one partner.

The 3 main reasons for not using a condom were:
22% were too drunk to get a condom at the time of intercourse,
21% were too horny to interrupt foreplay and get a condom, and
31% preferred the sensation of unprotected sex, regardless of its dangers.

 “By not using condoms all the time, young Australians are not only risking their own sexual health, but the sexual health of others,” said sexual health expert, Dr Catriona Ooi.

Of great concern was the fact that the survey found many young people had very little knowledge of the dangers of unprotected sex. 37% said they didn’t know the symptoms for genital herpes, Chlamydia or syphilis, with a further 28% thinking herpes could be treated using cream and antibiotics.

Genital herpes can be transmitted from one person to another through any form of sexual contact. This includes vaginal sex, oral sex and anal sex. They cannot be cured; however it can be effectively treated and managed using antiviral therapy. It is important to avoid sex during an outbreak and always use a condom during sexual activity.

Alarmingly nearly 50% were not sure what STI tests screened for, and therefore did not see the need for them.
Dr Ooi added that regular STI testing was also important, as many infections including genital herpes and Chlamydia could be passed on without the carrier having any symptoms.

Facts about genital herpes

  • Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI).
  • It is caused by the herpes virus, which also causes cold sores, chicken pox and shingles.
  • Genital herpes affects 1 in 8 Australian adults.
  • It is twice as common in adult women as in adult men.
  • 80% of people with genital herpes don’t realise that they have it.
  • Symptoms can appear outside of the genital region; including the anus, buttocks, lower back, thighs and on the fingers.
  • The most common symptoms of genital herpes include tingling, itching and redness.
  • Most people have 4 – 6 outbreaks of genital herpes in the first year they acquire the virus.
  • 70% cent of people with genital herpes report getting it from a partner who did not have an outbreak at the time of sexual contact.

 Chief executive of Family Planning Victoria, Lynne Jordan said, “If a younger person who is sexually active gets the condom, I would think that’s a better proposition than then actually having unprotected sex.”

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.