Page last updated at 08:16 GMT, Thursday, 30 July 2009 09:16 UK

'Am I ready to lose my virginity?'

Fifteen-year-old Shauny is trying to make up her mind whether to have sex for the first time.

Shauny

Shauny talks about her relationship with her boyfriend

She has been seeing her boyfriend for three months and is conscious they are becoming more physically intimate. But as she approaches 16, the legal age of consent, she is not sure whether she is ready to have sex.

Her close childhood friend, Riah, is also a virgin.

Together the two took part in a BBC Three documentary that set out to give them a better understanding of the issues.

Accompanied by their mums, Shauny and Riah set out on a 2,000 mile road trip in Britain and the Netherlands, where they were introduced to various "sexperts", as well as situations to get the families talking openly and honestly about sex.

'People pleaser'

Single mum Debbie prides herself on her close relationship with Shauny, but has been struggling with the fact that her eldest daughter is growing up and wants to have her boyfriend over to stay.

The only thing that's stopping me is what could happen afterwards
Shauny

She fears that Shauny may enter a sexual relationship before she is ready and thinks that 16 is still too young.

More than a quarter of young Britons claim to have lost their virginity illegally and in the last 20 years, the number of sexually active girls under the age of consent has risen from one in 20 to one in three.

But are these teenagers really informed about the implications of their decision?

"Shauny's a people pleaser," says Debbie. "I think if she wasn't quite ready and he really wanted to… she'd go ahead with it."

Sex 'workshop'

Shauny has an open mind and is keen to understand every aspect of being in a sexual relationship

Being safe is foremost in her mind. "The only thing that's stopping me," she admits, "is what could happen afterwards."

Riah (left) and Shauny (right)
Riah and Shauny have known each other since they were seven

Shauny gets a lesson in "safe sex" at the Longbenton Youth Project in Essex called Great Sexpectations.

The teacher, Kelly, uses role play, with oven gloves and beer goggles as props, to demonstrate how drinking alcohol limits the ability to have safe sex.

Despite the inevitable, uncontrollable fits of giggles throughout Kelly's workshop, Shauny feels reassured by the practical nature of the session, which among other things shows her how a condom is put on.

"I think having more knowledge will help and if I do get into another heated situation with my boyfriend, it might help me decide."

Girls and boys

Although her boyfriend is not putting pressure on her to have sex, Shauny wants to understand more about how boys view sex and what they expect.

To enable the girls to gain more of an insight, a group of 15 and 16-year-old boys gather to talk openly to Shauny and Riah about their concerns.

I didn't know boys could be so sensitive
Riah

Shauny asks the group: "How many of you guys would wear a condom? Or would you prefer your girlfriend to take the pill?"

"Sex is something that is happening with both people," replies one of the teenagers, "so it shouldn't just be put on the girl to take the pill."

Another boy says he thinks the pill is a big step for a girl, so a condom would be a lot easier.

Before they met the boys, Shauny and Riah were sceptical about what they might hear, but they came out of it pleasantly surprised by the boys' attitude. "I didn't know boys could be so sensitive," says Riah.

'Netherlands-style'

The girls' mums are delighted that the meeting with the boys has helped them feel more comfortable, but perhaps the biggest hurdle on the road trip is making the mums themselves feel more at ease about discussing sex with their daughters.

In Amsterdam they meet a Dutch mum and her 16-year-old daughter who recently lost her virginity.

Debbie
I'm ashamed... I should have been stronger
Shauny's mum, Debbie

Holland has the lowest teenage pregnancy rate and the lowest rates of sexually transmitted infections in western Europe. Britain has almost the highest.

Despite a very open attitude to sex, teenagers in Holland start having sex on average one year later than in the UK.

Shauny's mum Debbie asks the Dutch mum: "When she told you that she'd lost her virginity, how did you feel about it?"

"I was very happy that she had a very nice first time," she replies. "We talk about everything."

This meeting has a big impact on Shauny, Riah and their mums. "I'm seriously thinking now that I should trust Shauny and say, 'If you want your boyfriend to stay over, then fine'," says Debbie.

Debbie's first time

Before leaving Holland, Shauny and Debbie meet with therapist and sexologist Sanderijn van der Deof.

Sanderijn believes that sex should be a normal topic of conversation when children are growing up, so that by the time they reach their teens, there will already be a dialogue between them.

She tries to encourage Debbie to open up to her daughter about her own first sexual experience.

"I'm ashamed," sobs Debbie, "I should have been stronger." Shauny's eyes well up as her mother struggles to describe how she slept with a boy for the first time because she was scared that he would not like her if she refused.

And the next morning how he laughed at Debbie in front of a group of their friends.

"The only other fear stronger than my fear of rejection," she says, "is my fear of you having to go through what I've been through… I don't want that for you."

As the eventful journey comes to an end, Shauny has heard enough to make up her mind.

"I'm going to wait until I know for a fact that I'm ready," she says. "I'm going to wait whether it means I wait till I'm 20."

Turning to her mum she continues: "After hearing everything you told me about your experience and after doing all this stuff over the past few days, it just me realise that the longer you wait, most likely the better it's going to be."

"My boyfriend knows that it'll happen when we're both ready and he'll wait as long as it takes… and if he doesn't - that's it, he's gone."

Riah also decides she will wait, because she feels she lacks confidence in herself and wants to concentrate on making a close relationship work first.

Sex: My Big Decision will be broadcast on Thursday 30 July, 2009, at 9pm on BBC Three.



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