Recent figures from the Public Health Laboratory Services revealed a dramatic increase in acute infections over the past five years, with genital chlamydia cases rising by 76 per cent, gonorrhoea by 55 per cent, syphillis by 54 per cent and genital warts by 20 per cent.
Dr Kevin Fenton, of the PHLS communicable disease surveillance centre, said: "It suggests that changes in sexual behaviour, thought to be related to the safer sex messages in the wake of the HIV epidemic, have not been sustained."
Yet guidance from the Catholic Church to teachers of sex education says that even when a young person cannot be persuaded to abstain from sex outside marriage, they should not use contraceptives. In a booklet for teachers, Education for Love, the advice is: "The principle of the lesser of two evils cannot be used to advocate or justify protected extra-marital sexual activity - the "safe-sex" approach - which is morally wrong."
Guidance to teachers in Catholic schools follows the hardline view from church leaders in Rome. At the end of last year, Vatican officials restated the line that the best sources of Aids pevention were Church education programmes, which would tackle the root of the problem. Even within a marriage, sexual relations with an HIV or Aids-infected partner could not justify the use of condoms.
Church spokesman Kieran Conry said: "(Teachers) will give a full range of information about condoms and other contraception devices but then do give the church's position on this. All schools would acknowledge that you are talking about an ideal."
But Bellerive Catholic high school, in Liverpool, insists that religion and cultural background are important factors in planning and delivering sex and relationship education. A spokeswoman said: "In Catholic schools, sex and relationship education will continue to be based on the teachings of the Church. All the issues in the guidance will be covered, studied and discussed."
Other schools take a more pragmatic view. Paul Patrick, Head of the Cardinal Wiseman RC high school in London, says he is dealing with 1,600 streetwise young people. "We cannot ignore the fact that condoms exist so we are going to teach about them. The issue is about having free choices and making moral choices. That is what sexual education is about. I think the whole point is we are not trying to brainwash our children."
Teenage Aids epidemic, 9