France focuses on prevention: Since January 1, condoms have been available free of charge in France for everyone under the age of 26. And since last year, women up to the age of 25 have been getting contraceptives for free.

President Emmanuel Macron calls the new policy a “small revolution in prevention” to halt the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. The number of infections is increasing all over Europe, in France there is said to have been a jump of 30 percent in 2020 and 2021.

Germany is more stingy when it comes to sex. Women have to have contraceptives such as the pill or an IUD prescribed by a doctor and pay for them themselves; only those under the age of 22 can have the costs reimbursed by their health insurance.

However, these agents can only prevent pregnancy; unlike condoms, they do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. Condoms are available in Germany in every supermarket – for cash.

In the European Union and the European Economic Area (EEA), the number of reported sexually transmitted diseases has increased in recent years, as shown by the Surveillance Atlas of Infectious Diseases database of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), an EU Agency.

An example is the gonorrhea cases since 2009, although the curve went down again after 2019, probably due to the corona pandemic, in which fewer people gathered and there were fewer health checks. Most cases are recorded in Spain, the Netherlands and France, all in the 25-34 age group.

The database does not provide EU-wide data on chlamydial infections, but the number of confirmed cases shows a significant increase since the early 1990s, with consistently high numbers up to 2019. People aged 15 to 24 are most commonly affected. Syphilis is even more worrying. Except for a sudden drop in 2019, the number of reported cases has risen sharply.

Condoms are very effective in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Gonorrhea, also known as gonorrhea, and chlamydia infections often have no symptoms and are easily curable, but they often cause serious health problems. For example, chlamydia can lead to infertility in women.

Far more dangerous is syphilis: If it is not recognized and treated, it can damage the brain, nervous system, eyes and ears. All three diseases are caused by bacteria and are treated accordingly with antibiotics. There is no vaccination against the infections.

Young people in Germany obviously know how to protect themselves – at least the vast majority of 14 to 17-year-olds use condoms during sexual intercourse. This is shown by the representative survey “Juvenile Sexuality 2020” by the Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA), and it also documents a positive development since the survey five years earlier.

The study also found a correlation between respondents’ level of education and the likelihood that they would choose risky birth control methods or not at all. According to their own statements, what the young people knew about sexuality and reproduction they had learned from their parents, through sex education at school and on the Internet.

However, not all parents feel able to explain sexual issues and risks to their children and some websites are totally unsuitable for younger users. That is why schools continue to play an important role here.

Sex education was introduced as a subject in German schools in the 1950s and 1960s, mostly as part of the biology subject. However, students rarely learn about the risk of contracting and spreading STDs during class. For example, according to a study, most German curricula do not mention chlamydia infections.

For the past 20 years, boys and girls in French collège, or middle school, have been required to take three courses in sex education. However, the daily Le Monde cites a study that says they are not offered everywhere and that there are major differences between courses, schools and regions.

When President Macron announced the free distribution of condoms, he also acknowledged that France was lagging behind when it came to sex education and that teachers needed better training. French Health Minister Pap Ndiaye stressed that sex education will prevent teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases and fight discrimination. It is therefore a “duty of public health”.

Adaptation from the English by Beate Hinrichs.

Autor: Benjamin Restle

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The original of this post “STDs are increasing – what to do?” comes from Deutsche Welle.