Health: Teenagers turn internet to diagnose sex health problems

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New figures released by The Information Standard to mark Sexual Health Week, which begins on Monday, reveal that up to 4.7 million (80 per cent) of people aged 18 to 24 rely on the internet to diagnose their sexual health problems, without knowing if the information provided is trustworthy.

The poll also reveals that worryingly 55 per cent of young people from the East of England have never had a sexual health screening.

Additional findings from the survey go on to highlight East of England youngsters’ ignorance about sexual health:

Nearly two fifths (38 per cent) don’t think it is necessary to have a sexual health screening if they don’t suffer symptoms, despite the fact that many STIs have no symptoms.

This is backed up by 75 per cent of East of England youngsters who had an STI saying they only found out through a routine sexual health screening, not because they were experiencing signs or symptoms.

Almost two thirds (63 per cent) are not aware that condoms can be damaged by lipstick.

One third (33 per cent) falsely believe shaving or waxing pubic hair prevents crabs or lice.

Commenting on the research, GP Dr. Louise Newson said: “Young people’s reliance on untrustworthy websites creates a misunderstanding of sexual health – this is a cause for concern.

“ Young people are already more likely to pick up STIs than any other age group. It’s vital that when they are looking for sexual health advice they seek a reliable source.

“All too often I treat young patients who have been misinformed online. Men in particular are caught out because the majority of STIs that affect them don’t carry any symptoms.”

Dominic Edwardes of the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “STI rates are worryingly high amongst young people, accounting for more than half (55 per cent) of all new diagnoses in England in 2010.

“To reduce these figures we need to make sure that young people are equipped with trustworthy advice and understand how to have safe protected sex.

“We display The Information Standard’s quality mark on our website which shows that the information we put online can be trusted.”

Ann Robinson, director of public awareness for The Information Standard scheme, added: “We want all young people to understand how to spot a trustworthy site.

“ Just because it ranks high in the search engine, for example, does not mean that it will provide informed advice. The only way to make sure a health and social care website is trustworthy is to look for the Information Standard’s quality mark. Without it, they could be putting their health at risk.”

The Information Standard is a certification scheme that allows health and social care organisations, accredited by the scheme, to place a quality mark on their published information, demonstrating to the public that their information can be trusted.

For more details about The Information Standard visit www.theinformationstandard.org