PARIS — France will begin offering free condoms in pharmacies for people ages 18 to 25 starting Jan. 1, in a bid to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday.
“It’s a small revolution for prevention,” Mr. Macron said as he announced the news during a health debate with young people in western France.
The move comes as health authorities have observed an increase in sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, in recent years. But it is also part of a broader public health campaign that has led France to expand free access to contraception and screening for sexually transmitted diseases.
Mr. Macron said that “regarding sexual health” of young people, “we have a real issue,” according to reports from French news outlets present at the debate. And he acknowledged that, when it comes to sex education, “We’re not good on this topic.”
Since 2018, the cost of condoms could be reimbursed by the national health system if they were purchased in a pharmacy with a prescription. But the measure is not well known to young French people. And more than a quarter of them say they “never” or “not always” use condoms during sexual intercourse with a new partner, according to a study released last year by HEYME, a student health insurance company.
“Condom use is very low, especially among young people,” said Catherine Fohet, a gynecologist and top member of the National Federation of Institutes of Medical Gynecology. She said the price of condoms can be prohibitive but also pointed to their “bad image” as devices that reduce tactile sensation.
French health authorities say that sexually transmitted infections, or S.T.I.s, have been on the rise in recent years, especially among young people, as a result of a decline in the use of prevention methods.
Recently released figures show that the number of people infected with chlamydia rose last year by 15 percent compared with 2020, and more than doubled compared with 2014, based on data from screenings at private health centers.
Meanwhile, gonorrhea infections have been growing since 2016, and H.I.V. infections, which condom use had helped curb in the 1980s and 1990s, have stagnated around 5,000 from 2020 to 2021.
“There’s an explosion of S.T.I.s,” said Jérôme André, the director of HF Prévention, an association that organizes screenings among university students. He added that in some universities of the Paris region, the rate of S.T.I.s reached 40 to 60 percent of those tested.
“We end up testing tons of people who should not be infected,” Mr. André said.
Mr. Macron said in a message posted on Twitter following his announcement that other health measures would be implemented as part of a recently passed health care law. They include free emergency contraception for all women in pharmacies and free testing for sexually transmitted infections without a prescription, except H.I.V., for people under 26.
Ms. Fohet welcomed Thursday’s announcement, but she said free condoms “won’t solve everything.” She added that “education and information” were key to convincing people to use protection during sexual intercourse.
Mr. Macron acknowledged on Thursday that France needed “to train our teachers much better on this topic, we need to raise awareness.”
Earlier this year, the French government made contraception free for all women up to age 25. The move was welcomed by the country’s National Council of the Order of Midwives, which said in a statement that it should be accompanied by better sexual education for all teenagers ages 15 to 18.
“Handing out condoms is good,” Mr. André said. “But when people are already infected, it’s too late.”