A new poll reveals that one in five parents have no intention of providing sex education to their children.
The study, undertaken by oral health charity the British Dental Health Foundation, suggests that too many parents and young people are unaware of one of the most common sexually transmitted infections – the human papilloma virus (HPV).
The virus has been linked to cervical cancer and mouth cancer transmitted by oral sex.
The survey revealed that HPV is considerably less well known than all other major sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and the vast majority of respondents were unaware of its links to cervical and mouth cancer.
Less than half (42%) of respondents were aware of HPV compared to high ratings across the board for other common STIs including HIV (97%), chlamydia (93%), herpes (92%), gonorrhoea (90%) and syphilis (89%).
Only a quarter of respondents (25%) were aware that HPV was a cause of cervical cancer. Only one in 20 respondents identified HPV as a cause of mouth cancer transmitted via oral sex.
The survey questioned both parents with children aged 12 to 16, as well as young people aged 12 to 16.
The findings suggest that the current sex education curriculum in schools may need to be reviewed to ensure greater awareness and discussion of HPV.
Last year, a total of 482,696 new STI cases were reported in the UK.
It is thought that at least 50% of sexually active men and women get HPV at some point in their lives.
The survey also questioned the role played by parents in the sex education of their children. The Foundation discovered that around one in five parents (19%) had no intention of providing sex education to their children. A further 17% were undecided.
The results, published ahead of the Foundation’s Mouth Cancer Action Month campaign in November, which is supported by Denplan, aims to raise awareness of HPV – considered to be the fastest growing cause of mouth cancer.
Experts predict HPV will overtake the current main risk factors of alcohol and tobacco, within the next 10 years. Without early detection, an estimated 30,000 people in the UK will die from mouth cancer in the next decade.
Foundation chief executive Dr Nigel Carter said: ‘For many people, discussing sex education, including sexually transmitted infections remains a taboo subject. Although sex education in schools is working for most sexually transmitted infections, the results point to a clear gap in not just young people’s knowledge of HPV, but parents and the general public’s, too.
‘The mere presence of HPV as a risk factor for mouth cancer means the traditional risk age of over 40 no longer applies, as sufferers are getting younger. It is therefore crucial that everyone knows the potential signs of mouth cancer.’