Aim. This paper is a report of a literature review to explore issues influencing condom use in heterosexual adolescents and young people. Background. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a major international health issue and adolescents and young people are particularly vulnerable. Efforts to address the rapid spread of STIs have largely focused on promoting the use of condoms as a protective 'safer sex' measure. However, use of the male condom is still inconsistent and the incidence of STIs continues to increase. Method. A search of the literature using EBSCO Host databases was undertaken in 2006, with a focus on women, young people, condoms and STIs. Papers published in English from 1992 to 2006 were sought. Only research papers are included in this review. Results. Factors impeding decisions to use protection by young people include lack of knowledge about prevalence of STIs, ambiguity around contraception and safer sex practices, and the difficulty faced by young women in particular in negotiating safer sex. The notion of romantic love confounds the assessment of risk and can render young people, particularly young women, ineffective in negotiating safer sex practices. Conclusion. Adolescents and young adults are particularly vulnerable in relation to STIs. There is a need to ensure that accurate messages are delivered about safer sex and contraception to this very vulnerable group. Furthermore, it is important to recognize that romantic love comprises strong emotions that have a role in decision-making and options for reducing personal-health risk during sexual activity.