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Twice-as-safe sex urged on teenagers

France. With the average age of girls seeking their first abortions down to 13, a campaign has been launched urging teenagers to use the pill as well as condoms.

Policies against Aids have been effective among young people with research showing that three-quarters of 15 to 18-year-olds are using condoms during their first sexual encounters. However, information about birth control has been neglected, according to campaign organisers.

Sponsored by the health ministry, the campaign involves associations concerned with adolescence, students, Aids and young people, a parents' federation, a youth radio station and a medical laboratory.

Under the slogan "Pilule et capote, les deux c'est top!" the campaign is running on the teenage Fun Radio. Eleven cities have been targeted with meetings between professionals and young people organised to pass on information about sexuality, contraception, women's cancer and overcoming girls' reluctance to make their first visit to a gynaecologist.

Teenagers who are using condoms against Aids do not see why they should use a second contraceptive. Use of the pill has consequently fallen, according to Dr Sauveur Boukris, the main organiser of the campaign.

Dr David Serfaty, head of the birth control centre at Paris's Saint-Louis hospital, said that condoms are "not a sufficiently efficient contraceptive".

"At the beginning of their sexual life, teenagers often tear them or let them leak; and they do not use them very regularly. However, the pill alone, which young couples might use when going steady, did not protect them against Aids or other sexually-transmitted diseases, nor against cancer of the uterus, Dr Serfaty said.

In the Netherlands, which has the lowest rates of teenage pregnancy and abortion in the world, young people are encouraged to use both condoms and the pill, he pointed out. The number of pregnancies in France among under-18s has remained stable over recent years at an annual 6,000.

The teenage abortion rate, at 43 per 1,000 girls, is much higher than the 14 per 1,000 in the Netherlands, about the same as that in Britain and Canada and less than half the rate in the United States. But the average age of girls first resorting to an abortion has fallen from 15 to 13-and-a-half.

Pupils start receiving sex education at lower secondary school at age 13 or 14. Since 1992, upper secondary schools have been allowed to install condom dispensers as an anti-Aids measure.

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