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Monday, 29 November, 1999, 17:58 GMT
Media linked to underage sex increase
teenage mums The media may be to blame for an increase in underage sex

Groundbreaking research into the sexual habits of teenagers suggests the media is guilty of sending out conflicting messages, leading to a rise in teenagers' sexual activity.

The study, one of two carried out on behalf of the Health Education Board Scotland, shows that while television soaps tend to cover sexual issues in an in-depth and informative manner, men's magazines approach the subject in a macho and stereotypical way.

The survey entitled Representation of Teenage Sexuality in the Media was conducted by Glasgow University researcher Jenny Kitzinger who said the portrayal of young people in the media was overwhelmingly heterosexual and sexually active.

FHM screenshot Men's magazines convey a macho image
Martin Raymond of HEBS said the key to the increase in sexual activity among young people was the media.

"The number of children depending on the media as a source of sexual information has grown and grown," said Mr Raymond.

A second study, Health Behaviours of Scottish Schoolchildren, highlights the marked increase in underage sex.

Almost 38% of 15-year-old girls surveyed by researchers at Edinburgh University had had sexual intercourse.

The figure compares with 26.5% who said they had had sex in a similar questionnaire in 1990.

Dr Candace Currie, from the University's Research Unit into Health and Behavioural Change, said there could be a number of reasons for the children becoming involved in a range of adult activities earlier, including children having greater disposable incomes.

She pointed to research that indicates the number of children smoking has also doubled in the past decade. But she added that the trends were international.

Childhood seems to be getting shorter
Dr Candace Currie, University of Edinburgh Research Unit into Health and Behavioural Change

She said: "One of the conclusions you see from other countries is that children embark on an adult lifestyle at a much younger age.

"There are a number of factors that are associated with a rise in sexual activity. Children have a larger disposable income and their lifestyles have changed.

"They tend to be drinking and doing more adult things. Smoking has also doubled in the last decade among 12 to 15-year-olds.

"Early sexual activity is part of the package. It's not an individual lifestyle - there tends to be a peer culture.

"The fact they are embarking on adult lifestyles earlier is because childhood seems to be getting shorter, which is more to do with the increase in the consumer lifestyle of today's teenagers."

The research also indicated that girls with low educational aspirations, and who were not involved in sports were those most likely to be having sex earlier.

In the report, Dr Currie added that there was no link between sex education in schools and the increase in sexual activity.

She said: "If you look at countries like the Netherlands where there is sex education at a younger age, there is a rise in the age of first sexual encounter."

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