Chris Condron finds balancing sun and sex and avoiding sewage makes summer holidays a risky business
THE three As - alcohol, anonymity and accessibility - lead to young people being twice as likely to have sex with a casual partner on holiday than at home.
But concerns about the increased risk of HIV infection when abroad means they are more likely to use condoms, according to research conducted by the University of Wales, Cardiff for the Health Education Authority.
The report, titled Young People and International Travel, finds one in six holiday-makers aged 16 to 32 and travelling abroad without a regular sexual partner reported having had sex with a new partner.
Only one in 12 respondents reported sex with a casual partner during an equivalent period at home.
This increased sexual activity may be exceeded only by the expectations of the same group, with nine out of ten 16 to 24-year-olds agreeing that holidays are a time when young people are more likely to have sex with a casual partner.
Men report more sexual partners than women, but women are more likely to report unsafe sex.
The Wellcome Trust's 1990 National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles had revealed that people in this age grouptypically changed partners at the rate of one per year.
"This new research shows that this age group were quite sexually active while travelling abroad," says Mick Bloor, one of the Cardiff researchers.
The research team approached young travellers at Heathrow and Gatwick airports and then followed them up by telephone on their return.
A quarter of all respondents believed increased access to the opposite sex was the major factor for their increased sexual behaviour, with alcohol and anonymity close behind.
Previous HEA research has suggested that the anonymous nature of a holiday fling leads to people behaving more safely than in similar circumstances at home.
The new report confirms this. It found that only 6 per cent of respondents felt HIV represented a significant health risk to themselves at home, but 12 per cent believed it was a risk when holidaying abroad.
These fears were reflected in the rise in condom use among young holiday-makers.
Two-thirds of respondents reporting intercourse with a new holiday partner claimed to have used a condom, and more than three-quarters of those used one every time they had intercourse.
"The encouraging thing is that although these young people are more active than at home, the levels of unsafe sex are rather low," Mr Bloor says.
Jan Welch, consultant in genito-urinary medicine at King's College school of medicine in London, believes young people's increased use of condoms when on holiday is encouraging, but maintains that HIV infection is not the only risk.
"I think young people being more cautious on holiday is very wise, as the prevalence of HIV varies greatly around the world. But they should also be aware of chlamydia, which can cause infertility, gonorrhea, syphilis, genital warts and unwanted pregnancies. Condoms will prevent most of these, most of the time," she says.
Dr Welch recognises the part alcohol plays in holiday romances and stresses the need to usecondoms properly as part of a safe sex approach.
"Oil rots rubber, so holiday-makers must make sure to wash off any sun tan lotions before getting down to anything interesting," she says.
"People should also be aware that sexually transmitted diseases can be caught through oral sex."