Girls under 16 are three times as likely to have an infection caught through sex as other women, reveals research from one London genitourinary medicine clinic in Sexually Transmitted Infections. The researchers analysed the profile of clients aged 16 and under attending a sexual health clinic in south east London during the months of March and October 1998.
Over the two months, 172 young teens visited the clinic, 10 of whom left without seeing a doctor. Only 18 clients were boys, which, the authors suggest, is not down to later sexual maturity; but simply that they are less likely to access sexual health clinics. The average client age was 15, but ages ranged from 12 to 16.
Twenty seven - almost one in five - of the 144 young women were pregnant. Overall, most of the young women seen had been pregnant at least once; one girl had been pregnant 10 times. And of the 117 girls who were not pregnant at the time, three quarters said they were not using any form of contraception.
Almost two thirds of the girls had a sexually transmitted infection, a rate almost three times that of other women attending the clinic. They were three times as likely to have gonorrhoea and chlamydia as other clinic users. The area already has a very high rate of such infections, say the authors.
Over 40 per cent came to the clinic for a routine check-up, suggesting a reasonable level of sexual health awareness, but almost half of them failed to return for a follow up appointment. Of those who did, one in five had failed to complete treatment.
The authors emphasise that genitourinary medicine clinic attenders are not typical of all teenagers, but say that the figures point to higher rates of sexually transmitted infections than national data suggest. And they conclude that contraceptive advice is an aspect of clinic care that seems to be ignored. But, they say, more must be done to target this age group and encourage them to visit sexual health clinics.