'I don't know anyone with Aids," shrugs Andy as he takes another swig and surveys the heaving dance floor. Contraception, it appears, is not something he loses sleep over.

Next to him, his friend Niki, an 18-year-old footballer, agrees: "When I'm with a girl and we're in the flow, using contraception is the last thing on my mind," he admits.

It's Friday night at the Revolution vodka bar in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, and the place is packed. Young men and women are getting up close and personal as the music plays and the drinks flow. A number of them are hoping to exchange phone numbers - or more - with members of the opposite sex, but very few of them, when asked, have even let the risk of Aids cross their mind.

Turning back to his drink, Andy, who is 27 and a contract manager, continues: "I don't use protection as I don't like it," he explains. "When I'm with a girl I'm either a bit drunk or with someone I know and think I can trust. I don't really think it's an issue for heterosexuals up here."

Casual sex, then, is the order of the day (and night), and precaution plays little part. Sean Welsh, a 37-year-old bisexual who makes wedding dresses, said: "While I have had regular Aids tests, I rarely use condoms. After my divorce four years ago, I've just wanted to have a good time - it's all about having sex. I don't care that much about who I'm with, so I don't use condoms."

But he adds: "I'm careful about not coming inside people." And does he think that heterosexuals are less aware of the risks of Aids? "For me it's not a gender issue," he says. "I know you can catch it from both sexes. However, Harrogate is a bit like Chelsea - we think that we are elite and that Aids won't happen to us."

And what of their female counterparts? With the nightclub filled with scantily dressed girls lining up the shots, is their attitude any more responsible? Yes, say friends Kelly Gavaghan and Claire Holmes, who work together on the Harrogate Advertiser. Both would like to think they are always careful. While Kelly says she would never "get drunk and fall into bed with a stranger", Claire's main worry seems to be more about where her partner might have been: "My boyfriend is 10 years older than me," she says, "so he has had more partners. Aids has crossed my mind, as you just can't be sure and you can hardly ask him, can you? It's a bit of a dodgy subject."

Claire Sanderson, 18, a psychology student from Lancaster, also admits she has worried about past boyfriends. "You just don't know if they've slept with one woman or 20. Chances are that they're probably going to lie to you about past history, anyway."

A-level student Natalie Van Royan Vissee, 19, believes that "men who don't use contraception are absolutely crazy - it's all to do with alcohol and, as a girl, I would never get so drunk as to take risks."

And are the more mature partygoers responsible these days? "The truth is that I definitely put myself at risk when I was younger," says Cassandra Willoughby, 40, who works as a traffic warden. "I had some scary moments and I was just lucky, I guess. I've certainly been much more careful as I've got older. After all, people do die from Aids, don't they?"

Mathew Welsh, 27, a sales manager, also admits that, in his former single days, the risk of Aids caused him concern: "When you've slept with someone drunk and not used condoms, the next morning it's like a black cloud over you. I'm definitely better about it these days."

So there you have it. With age, it seems, comes a bit of wisdom. But what of the hordes of men whose mission is simply to have a good time and not think of the consequences? As I leave the dance floor straining to the sounds of "Shake Your Booty" and "Tonight's the Night", I hope the girls are really as responsible at they seem.