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Tuesday, 4 August, 1998, 09:50 GMT 10:50 UK
"I wish I never did it"
Opinion is split on sex education
A campaign has been launched to combat the rising number of teenage pregnancies in the UK.

The Family Planning Association's Get SexWise! campaign is designed to help parents talk to their teenage children about sex. However opponents claim a liberal, open approach to discussing sex could be counter productive.

The FPA campaign has been launched in the wake of statistics showing the UK now has the highest rate of teenage births in Europe.

A quarter of boys and a fifth of girls say they have had sex before reaching the age of consent. Last year an 11-year-old schoolboy became Britain's youngest father.

Girls regret sex

The pressures young girls are under to have sex were illustrated in a series of interviews conducted by BBC Radio Four's "Women's Hour."

"The first time I ever had sex was when I was 12-years-old, I did not tell anyone, I kept it a secret. At first I was pleased, but then I thought to myself I am only 12 is it right and then I got worried."

"It was just one of those things. I wish I never did it acutally. When you imagine it, you don't imagine it like that. It was all really rushed. It was over and done with. I did not really speak to him after, I just felt stupid so I walked out of the room, and that was that."

"I imagined it to be something special and magic, but it is not. I was nervous, and I did not expect it. It just happened."

Teenagers 'need help dealing with emotions'
Among those taking part in the campaign is agony aunt Suzie Hayman, who has published a parent's guide to talking to their children about sex entitled, 'You Just Don't Listen'.

Big mistake

Ms Hayman said the big mistake was not allowing young people to talk openly about sex and their emotional attitudes towards it.

She said: "We go wrong by not allowing young people to talk about the right things.

"What they still teach in school is very fact based, it is about the effects, about pregnancy, occasionally contraception gets mentioned, but mostly it is reproduction - and usually it is rabbits and frogs rather than human beings.

"The important things that parents want to talk about with their kids, and kids want to talk about with their parents and other people are really the emotional and moral issues.

"They want to talk about how they feel about this - Do I want to do this? How do I say no if I want to say no? - rather than just the blanket you should not be doing it, because it is naughty.

"Young people look about them and see that a lot of people do enjoy sex. They want to learn the facts and they want to talk."

Underage sex is 'wrong'

However, writer and broadcaster Lynette Burrows said schools had gone wrong by presenting sex as a lifestyle choice for young people.

She said a recent survey had shown that for 80% of underage girls their first sexual experience had been a dreadful experience.

Ms Burrows said: "Sex education has concentrated on 'do you want to do it.' To my mind that is as bad as having something about 'do you want to be a burglar.' It is illegal. It should not be considered for children under the age of 16."

Ms Hayman said it was important to talk about how to negotiate relationships at an early stage.

She said: "If you hold off talking about sex until it is legal, it is a bit like saying to young people 'I am not going to teach you anything about road safety until I put you in a car and give you the keys'."

"What the campaign is about is saying let's help parents feel able to be comfortable about talking to their children about sex. Parents are saying again and again 'please, we want help'."

Condescending attitude

But Ms Burrows claimed most parents did talk to their children about sex - they just did not do it in a way completely unabashed, unrestrained way acceptable to middle class liberals. Campaigns such as that launched by the FPA were guilty of condescension.

"Most people talk to their children about sex and relationships, but when they are questioned by sex therapists do you talk about penises and vaginas they say no, because most people retain the taboo about sex which is part of the protection for young people," she said.

"This is a sales pitch from people who have got something to offer. Parents do not have a problem talking about sex. They never have done."

Girls 'don't carry condoms'

Aids awareness campaigns had some effect
Sociologist Janet Holland, from South Bank University, who has researched teenager sexual behaviour, said young girls had become aware of the importance of safe sex during the Aids campaigns of the late eighties.

However, to be seen to carry condoms damaged their reputation among their peers.

She said: "What they feel they are required to do is to defer to the male in sexual matters."

Ms Holland said research had shown that many parents were unconfident about talking to their children about sex.

"In general the sort of sex education people get in families often is not terribly helpful for them. It is not about the kind of things they want to talk about."

"Their major source of information are their friends. Young women think the information they get from their friends is rather good, and young men are rather doubtful about the information they get from their friends.

The fact that children talked about sex among themselves, Ms Holland said, was a powerful argument in favour of effective and accurate sex education.

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02 Aug 98 | Health
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