Children feel pressure to have sex at an early age but lack knowledge of contraception and sexual health, ChildLine said today.
Over 5,800 calls to the charity’s helpline were analysed for new research.
Ignorance and embarrassment about sex is putting the health and wellbeing of the UK’s young people at risk, says ChildLine, now run by the NSPCC.
Its counsellors are concerned that rather than waiting until emotionally prepared, children are using alcohol as an emotional crutch to navigate an experience they feel they can’t avoid.
Children as young as 12 tell ChildLine they are turning to alcohol to cope with the embarrassment of their first sexual experiences, and the confusion surrounding contraception means risks such as sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy are barely considered.
ChildLine is calling on the government to review personal, social and health education to cover sex and relationships.
It also wants all schools to have advisory and support services where young people can turn for confidential advice on issues that concern them.
Anne Houston, director of NSPCC’s ChildLine services, says, “It is clear from the calls to the helpline that children are living in a highly sexualised culture. The pressure on them to be sexually active – often from peers – means children frequently have sex before they are ready and without thinking about the consequences.
“The majority of calls to ChildLine occur after the young person has already engaged in risky sexual behaviour, and although we are pleased they are seeking advice, the lack of knowledge some callers display, along with the lack of confidence to discuss their options with potential sexual partners, is frightening.”