Children and young people are ignorant and embarrassed about sex and this is putting their health and safety at risk.
The findings were announced by ChildLine, the children’s helpline now run by the NSPCC, after it analysed nearly 6,000 calls made to the helpline.
It said children felt pressurised into having sex at an early age, but didn’t get enough information about sexual health and contraception.
ChildLine counsellors found that children and young people thought that contraception was expensive and that visits to their doctor were not confidential. Others did not know how to use condoms, or believed that the pill would make them fat.
The figures showed that few children called ChildLine for advice about sexually transmitted diseases (STIs), and didn’t know that contraception could protect them from STIs as well as pregnancy.
Alcohol was an added problem with children as young as 12 admitting drinking to cope with their feelings of confusion and embarrassment.
The charity wants the government to make personal, social and health education mandatory in England, and for the subject to cover sexuality, relationships, safe sex and pregnancy. It is also calling on the Scottish Executive to review the progress and implementation of the Respect and Responsibility strategy on improving sexual health, and for the Welsh Assembly to review the delivery of sex and relationships education.
“It is clear from the calls to the helpline that children are living in a highly sexualised culture, and although we are pleased they are seeking advice, the lack of knowledge some callers display is frightening,” said Anne Houston, director of NSPCC’s ChildLine service.