An unwillingness to engage with the "promiscuous 10%," for fear of upsetting a vociferous minority, is at the heart of the current "sexual health crisis" in England, say public health experts in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
The "promiscuous 10%" refers to people who have multiple sexual partners and who may have started having sex early in life, say the authors, citing research showing that one in 10 young people has already had sex by the time they are 14.
Changing the behaviour of this group "is central to improving sexual health," say Professor Mark Bellis, director of the Centre for Public Health, in Liverpool, North West England, and colleagues. But they are all too often ignored.
Because sex education is not part of the national curriculum, each school can decide how much, if any, should be delivered, contend the authors. "Thus at national levels the choice to guarantee the delivery of high quality sex education is evaded, often to avoid offence to a sensitive but vocal minority."
"Perhaps a greater level of statutory, pertinent, and timely sex education is now required despite the complaints of a few," they add.
But the problem does not just lie with schools. Sexual activity is frequently depicted in films and on television, but almost always without any reference to sexual health, they complain.
Equally, the use of strong sexual imagery is used in adverts to sell "everything from alcohol to cars." But "the condom is practically never seen unwrapped by a well toned man or half naked woman."
Perhaps even the occasional advert could suggest that condoms, not just aftershave or tight jeans, may help improve your sex life," they go on to say.
But attempts to address sexual health in the media often "suffer a backlash from the vocal minority," say the authors, citing the removal, after a few complaints, of the UK billboard ad that used inflated condoms to spell out the words Roger More.
The authors say that placating the objectors has led to figures showing that one in 10 sexually active adults has had a sexually transmitted infection, while one in eight of the general public has had to go to a genitourinary medicine clinic.
They conclude that everyone needs to be more open about sex, even if it means upsetting those who find open discussions of sex and sexuality difficult to condone. "..with spiralling numbers of [sexually transmitted infections] and continuing unwanted pregnancies, the price of ignoring the needs of the promiscuous 10% will be far greater."
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