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Friday, May 14, 1999 Published at 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK


Labour urged: Take a stand on teen sex health

Britain has the worst teen pregnancy rates in western Europe

The government must come off the fence and take a stand on teenage pregnancies, say family planners.

Ann Widdecombe on teenage sexual health
They fear the government's insistence on consensus politics could mean Britain continues to have the worst teen sexual health record in the European Union.

Ann Furedi of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said: "The government seems very reluctant to accept that there are some issues where it is not possible to get a consensus. It must come off the fence.

"It must either line up with the people who think sex is a problem or with those who provide family planning services and have the weight of evidence behind them who argue for more services."

She said family planning organisations were worried that the government - which is shortly to bring out a social exclusion unit report on teen pregnancy - had too much of an eye on Daily Mail and Daily Express readers.

She said the two newspapers had an "exaggerated influence on policy".

"Sometimes going for the middle ground can be effective, but not on issues like this which are quite polarised.

"There needs to be an unambiguous approach."

Home Office minister Paul Boateng told the BBC that the government was committed to a broad-based attack on teenage health problems.

This would include attempts to make boys feel more responsible for contraception. "Young men are as much a part of the solution as they are a part of the problem."


He was speaking as health experts revealed that Britain has the highest teen sexual ill health in the EU.

The public health laboratory service says statistics show that British teenagers are no more likely to have sex than their European counterparts.

They are just less likely to use protection, such as condoms.

Conservative health spokeswoman Ann Widdecombe told BBC Radio Four's Today programme that the problem was due to girls not having enough self-respect and not feeling able to say no to sex.

[ image: Ann Widdecombe: girls need encouragement to say no to sex]
Ann Widdecombe: girls need encouragement to say no to sex
She said Britain had adopted a "defeatist approach" to teenage sexual health problems.

And she added that the media bore much of the blame for promoting "irregular lifestyles".

"The emphasis is to suggest that this is inevitable and that people have no control over their own decisions," she said.

"Girls should have the right to say no."

She said boys had always been interested in sex, but the promotion of contraception and teenage sex meant girls no longer felt able to say no to them.

Ms Furedi said this was "an extraordinarily patronising attitude which turns young women into victims and does them a real disservice".

She added that surveys had shown the majority of teenage girls who had sex did so because they were in love.

"They are not forced into it. We have to accept that teenage sex is part of modern life," she said.


Paul Boateng on govenrment policy on sex health
She added that comments like Ms Widdecombe's discouraged young people from seeking the services they needed because they feared their parents would be informed or that they would be seen as "a slut" or promiscuous.

A recent Childline survey found that many children with sexual health problems were ringing its helpline for advice because they did not know where else to turn.

Teen author Rebecca Ray, also speaking on the Today programme, called for more sex education at an earlier age and a more liberal approach.

She said giving girls access to contraception meant they would have more not less control over their sexual health.

"All we are doing now is ignoring the problem," she said.

Ann Furedi said that there was much ignorance about what sex education entailed.

It was about treating sex as a normal part of life and giving people choices about their sexual health, she said.

All schools have to teach the biology of sex, but it is mainly up to governors whether they cover it in a wider context.

Ms Furedi said the best lessons put sex in a very moral context and talked about relationships.

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