Alarmed by the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and a record number of abortions among teenagers, educators and health experts are desperately searching for ways to increase condom use.
Experts are blaming low condom use on a lack of proper sex education in schools, and concerned adults are trying to reach sexually active youths through other means, such as the Internet.
According to a 1999 survey by the Japanese Association for Sex Education covering students from junior high school to college, about a quarter of high school students and half of college students had sexual experience.
The survey, which received responses from about 5,500 students, also showed that the number of sexually active females, while fewer than males, is climbing fast.
Among high school students, 23.7 percent have had sexual intercourse, up from 5.5 percent in 1974, when the first survey was taken. For female college students, the numbers were 50.5 percent, up from 11 percent in ’74.
Meanwhile, the number of people infected with STDs has grown alarmingly, especially among teenagers. Cases of chlamydia jumped to 37,028 in 2000 compared with 13,415 in 1990, according to the health ministry.
Chlamydia, one of the most common STDs, can cause a burning sensation during urination and lead to infertility in women if untreated. But since the disease goes unnoticed in most cases, the actual number of infections is estimated to be as high as 960,000.
At the same time, teenage abortions, which began rising steadily around 1979, surged to a record high of 44,477 in 2000, despite declining abortion rates in all other age groups.
While there are few solid statistics on the use of contraceptives and STD-prevention behaviors, health experts and condom industry officials say the worsening figures suggest that the condom, considered one of the most effective forms of protection, is a turnoff for many youngsters. Some adults find their carefree attitudes appalling.
“There is a practice among some young girls to not use condoms when they sleep with their true loves,” said Toshiaki Ishii of condom manufacturer Okamoto Industries.
Given the reality, health advocates, in tandem with condom manufacturers, have been studying ways to motivate broader use of the prophylactic.
One such effort is “The Rules of Sex,” a cell phone Web site that provides a tutorial in condom use. The site was jointly launched by a study group composed of health experts, industry representatives and journalists.
Urologist Shinya Iwamuro said that some of the blame can be placed on the school system. He said some sex education programs fail to convey even the simple message that condoms should be worn.
“Many of them (students) would not even say it’s troublesome to use one, because they don’t know it’s necessary in the first place. They are not even taught the word ‘condom.’ “
The doctor at Kanagawa Prefectural Atsugi Hospital, who is dubbed the “condom master,” gives nearly 100 seminars a year on condom use at schools nationwide.
“You have to talk straight to them, like, ‘If you want to have sex, you have to wear a condom,’ ” he said.
Hiroshi Uchino, a teacher at Honisshiki Elementary School in Edogawa Ward, Tokyo, said the lack of a sense of crisis among teachers and parents only adds to the problem.
“They say it’s too early for children or that they will figure it out for themselves soon enough,” said Uchino, who also heads a sex-education study group that comprises teachers from kindergarten to high school.
He also emphasized the importance of human relations education to nurture consideration for others.
“Even if they learn why and how to use condoms, they may not use them if they don’t care about their partners, as many girls cannot ask their boyfriends to use them.”
When Taiho Pharmaceutical Co. started marketing the so-called female condom in April 2000, some experts hoped it would give women more control.
The female condom is a 17-cm-long polyurethane sheath inserted into the vagina before sexual intercourse.
Hideo Kanda, company spokesman, said it is the only effective alternative for women whose partners refuse to wear condoms.
Yet sales have been disappointing, the firm said.
“It takes a couple of times for them to feel comfortable with it,” Kanda said, adding that its relatively high price, 800 yen for three packs, may also be discouraging.
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