A sexual minefield

At the end of June, 30 US virgins will come to Britain. Glitzy
roadshows are planned for seven cities here and in Ireland, where
these young women, part of a growing movement extolling the virtues
of chastity, intend to spread the word on abstinence. We need them
– desperately. In the US, the chastity movement is making a
noticeable impact on teenage pregnancy rates. Here, the
government’s 10-year teenage pregnancy strategy, launched in 1999,
is already a resounding failure, possibly because, at its heart,
lie profound cynicism and hypocrisy.

With little or no social mentoring, teenage girls must live in the
sexually charged environment created for them by adults, under
pressure to perform according to the mores of the day which, along
with much else that is paradoxical, promote a woman’s “right” both
to have a child and to obtain abortion on demand.

Sex no longer has import or seriousness; it has become
recreational, something “to have”, like fast food or new jeans from
Top Shop, and “no” is a dirtier word than any Anglo-Saxon
obscenity. Modern society appears to be without restraint, shame or
common sense; degeneration in general social conduct is marked by
recklessness towards sex, personal debt, alcohol, drugs and
overeating. Fashion is sluttish in the extreme. Sex has ousted
violence at the cinema and the tabloids are obsessed with it,
celebrating and rewarding debauchery with huge sums of cash. The
producers of Big Brother seriously expect to film live intercourse
in the forthcoming series. Will the housemates be supplied with
condoms? Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as gonorrhea
and chlamydia now seem as common as a cold, Aids proliferates,
syphilis makes a steady comeback.

Jacqueline Gold, chief executive of the Ann Summers sex shop chain
(annual sales turnover £140m), told The Times (29
April) that she wants to be remembered as “someone who was proud of
taking sex to the high street and liberating women”. In that same
issue, Robbie Millen (“Tattooed and in need of help”) reported on
his weekend visit to Herne Bay where “emboldened by the first
heatwave of the year, the underclass had emerged and stripped off
to reveal grey bodies and blue artworkÉ the flotsam and jetsam
of 60 years of welfare dependenceÉ lager-breathed men with
frightening teeth to match their psycho staresÉ slutty girls
(with) freshly laid love-bites ignoring their skinny toddlers”. He
goes on to ask “were my friends and I the last middle-class people
alive in this septic isle?”, remarking “each passing year, that
community of aggressive know-and-do-nothings seems to swell, soon
to outnumber us”.

That one word – “us” – sums up the double standards that underpin
strategies on teenage pregnancy and many other welfare issues.
Government tells teenage girls that having a baby will ruin life
chances for themselves and the child; the media shows them glossy
images of actresses and other role models flaunting their
unwed-motherhood. The “haves”, as always, may do as they please;
the underprivileged, vilified “have-nots”, alienated by their
status, must accept whatever is imposed upon them, including
injustices and insults and, in the interests of government targets,
some unethical, dangerous practices that come close to

In response to a parliamentary question, Tim Loughton, shadow
children’s minister, recently learned that some 400 girls under 16
had been fitted with contraceptive implants which rendered them
infertile for three years and that a further 2,500 under-15s had
received contraceptive injections effective for three months. There
could be catastrophic health implications in feeding invasive
hormones to girls still in the throes of puberty. There are equally
destructive societal implications. Dr Trevor Stammers of the Family
Education Trust (The Sunday Times, 2 May) said: “Doctors
are giving carte blanche to men to have sex with underage girls.”
Loughton is concerned that using contraceptives thus encourages
promiscuity and increases the risk of STIs. More worrying, many of
these children – for that is what they are in law – were treated
without parental knowledge or consent, as in the case of the 14
year old sent for an abortion without her mother’s knowledge. In
other circumstances, even if offering life-saving treatment, those
same doctors could face criminal prosecution.

US society is probably little different from our own. The virgins
on their way to Britain have, however, picked their way through the
sexual minefield to reach their own decisions on what is best for
them. There is nothing repressive in counselling abstinence whereas
thrusting girls blindfold into that minefield and then punishing
them when they are injured is both repressive and a wicked
dereliction of adult responsibility.

Alison Taylor is a novelist, a former senior child care
worker and the winner of the 1996 Community Care Readers’

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