This section provides an overview of the key data about young people in England in relation to sex, relationships and sexual health.
Young people's knowledge
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Use of sexual health services
Young people's experience of intimate violence
Young people's knowledge:
Many young people lack adequate sexual health knowledge. Thirty-two per cent of young people responding to the Tellus 4 survey (NFER 2010) either found the information they had received on sex and relationships unhelpful, or had received no such information at all. The previous Tellus survey, which used different questions, found that thirty-seven per cent of young people (Ofsted, 2008) said they needed better information about sex and relationships.
Levels of knowledge about STIs have been found to be generally poor. In research carried out with over 1900 young people 31% of year 10 pupils did not correctly identify Chlamydia as a sexually transmitted infection and 56% did not know that syphilis is an STI (Westwood and Mullan, 2006).
A focus group carried out by the Sex Education Forum with students at a further education college proved to be the first time some of the young people had heard about Chlamydia.
"I didn't know that Chlamydia could stay inside you for a year before signs show its effects. I thought if I had Chlamydia then I wouldn't have known until like - next year - and then it's like - it'll be too late. I was really shocked - and surprised - I was actually angry that I didn't know this before". (further education college student)
Young people want to know how their bodies work, and the risks associated with unprotected sex.
Knowledge about contraception is also poor. A poll of over 2000 adults found that 92% of people cannot name the 15 types of contraception available to them (Populus, 2009).
Young people also want to know where they can go to access help and advice from health professionals. In a UK Youth Parliament survey 49% of young people responding said they knew where their local sexual health clinic was (UKYP, 2007).
Most young people become sexually active aged 16 and over. Between a quarter and a third of young people have heterosexual intercourse for the first time before they are 16 (Wellings 2001).
Use of condoms at first sex has increased significantly in recent years. But in 2000, 7 per cent of males and 10 per cent of females aged 16-19 reported using no form of contraception at first intercourse (Wellings 2001). Young people who become sexually active before they are 16 are less likely to use contraception.
Some young people experience early, unwanted, sexual contact. Sexual abuse is the fourth most common reason given for calling Childline (Childline, 2001).
The latest figures from ONS show that the under 18 conception rate for England and Wales in 2012 is the lowest since 1969 at 27.7 conceptions per thousand women aged 15-17. (Office for National Statistics, February 2014). The latest statistics also show that nearly half (49.1%) of all conceptions to women aged under 18 in 2012 led to an abortion, this figure has remained relatively unchanged since 2006.
The under 16 conception rate was 6.1 per 1000 females aged 13-15 in England in 2011, a fall of 9% from 2010.
ONS have published a briefing exploring the link between teenage conceptions and measures of deprivation both nationally and regionally, (Office for National Statistics, February 2013b). Findings showed that there was strong correlation between under 18 conception rates in England and the English Indices of Multiple Deprivation. Just over two-thirds of the most deprived local authorities had high incidents of under 18 conception in England, while just under two-thirds of the least deprived local authorities had low incidents of under 18 conception in England. Overall, under 18 conceptions and child poverty were reasonably well correlated in England, meaning that in areas of high child poverty there are likely to be high under 18 conception rates. Figures also showed that areas with high levels of unemployment were likely to have high under 18 conception rates.
Education has the biggest single impact on teenage conception rates. Young people who leave school later, with qualifications, are less likely to have early intercourse. They are also more likely to use contraception at first sex, and (for women) less likely to become pregnant if they have sex (Wellings, 2001).
Outcomes for teenage parents and their children are generally poor. Teenage mothers are less likely to finish their education, and more likely to bring up their child alone and in poverty. The infant mortality rate for babies born to teenage mothers is 60 per cent higher than for babies born to older mothers (DfES, 2006).
Local and regional data on rates of conception can be found on the Conception Statistics section of the Office for National Statistics website.
Sexually Transmitted Infections:
STIs are more common among young people than any other group. The Health Protection Agency 2011 data report (HPA 2012a) on sexually transmitted infections in England showed that new STI diagnoses rose by two per cent from 2010 to 2011. Young people aged 15-24 years old remained among those at highest risk. In 2011, 2.1 million chlamydia tests were carried out in England among young adults (15 to 24 years), with over 147,000 diagnoses made.
A HPA report (HPA 2012b) using data from three UK surveillance systems to analyse the epidemiology of genital herpes between 2002 and 2011 found that, for both males and females, rates were highest in those aged 20-24 years.
In response to a Parliamentary Question on the rate of sexually transmitted infections - chlamydia, gonorrhoea, herpes (first episode), syphilis, warts (first episode) - in young men and women under 18 years old in each year since 2005, the Department for Health provided statistical tables based on GUM clinic returns.
More statistics are available from the Health Protection Agency.
Use of sexual health services:
Young people are the group least likely to access sexual health services. Factors that young people have raised as important to them are opening hours, location, convenience, publicity, privacy and confidentiality.
There are striking differences between young women and young men in their use of services. 82% of young people screening for Chlamydia in 2005/6 were young women. Young men are less likely to access contraception services in the community or GPs. However more young men screen for Chlamydia in education settings than any other venue. Data shows that sexual health services are often less accessible for some groups of young people including LGBT young people (Sawtell, 2009).
In a Sex Education Forum focus group with young people, the problem of lack of open publicity about services was identified:
'The clinics need to be more open, they need to be more publicised … I was scared - I thought this is a place that people go to when they have sex and they do something wrong - we need to make clinics good places to go.' (further education college student)
Even when community clinics are conveniently located young people may feel uncomfortable about using the service because of a lack of privacy
Young people's experience of intimate violence
An extract from an ONS publication on violent crime and sexual offences (ONS, 2013c) states in the section on Intimate violence in the last year by personal characteristics that: "In addition to women being more likely than men to have experienced intimate violence in the last year, victimisation varied by other personal characteristics. The prevalence of intimate violence was higher for younger age groups. Women aged between 16 and 19 or between 20 and 24 were more likely to be victims of any domestic abuse (13.7% and 12.6% respectively) or of stalking (7.9% and 7.3% respectively). Women aged between 16 and 19 were most likely to be victims of sexual assault (9.2%). (Table 4.08)".
Childline (2001) Saving Young Lives: Calls to Childline about suicide
Office of National Statistics (Feb, 2014) Conceptions in England and Wales 2012
Office of National Statistics (Feb, 2013a) Conceptions in England and Wales 2011
[Separate statistics for Quarterly conceptions to women aged under 18, England and Wales can be found on the ONS website]
Office for National Statistics.(Feb 2013b). An analysis of under-18 conceptions and their link to measures of deprivation, England and Wales 2008-2010
Office for National Statistics (Feb 2013c) Focus on: violent crime and sexual offences, 2011/12
DfES (2006) Teenage Pregnancy Next Steps: guidance for local authorities and PCTS on effective delivery of local strategies
Health Protection Agency.(HPA 2012a) Health Protection Report Vol. 6. No. 22 - 1 June 2012
Health Protection Agency (HPA 2012b) Trends in genital herpes infections, England: 2002-2011
Commons Hansard: 12 February 2013: Cols. 680-682W (Commons Hansard, 2013)
NCSP (2006) New Frontiers; Annual Report of the National Chlamydia Screening Programme in England 2005/06
NFER (2010) Tellus 4 National Report
Ofsted (2008) Tellus 3 National Report
Populus (2009) Poll carried out for DCSF between 15-20 October 2009. Further information from the DCSF website
Sawtell et al (2009) Evaluation of the Teenage Health Demonstration Sites programme: Final report, Institute of Education
UK Youth Parliament (2007) SRE: Are you getting it?
UNICEF (2007) Child poverty in perspective: an overview of child well-being in rich countries (Innocenti Research Centre, Report Card 7)
Wellings, K. et al. (2001) Sexual behaviour in Britain; early heterosexual experience, Lancet, Vol 358, 1 December pp 1843-1850
Westwood and Mullan (2006) Knowledge of secondary school pupils regarding sexual health education, Sex Education, Vol 6, No 2, May pp151-16