More sex education please, we’re British

The government advisory group on teenage
pregnancy has some good ideas. But a more innovatory approach is

It’s a small miracle. Sex is wrapped around
every product and saturates television schedules yet a majority of
young people still resist this hard sell and delay their first
sexual experience until the age of 16, while 80 per cent are
confident enough to insist that a condom is used.

Last week, the second national survey of
sexual behaviour in Britain was published in The Lancet.
The survey, which interviewed 11,000 men and women aged 16 to 44,
also reveals that among 16 to 24-year-olds, 14.6 per cent of women
and 19.7 per cent of men have slept with 10 or more partners. On
the other hand, among those who had first had sex aged 13 or 14, 80
per cent of women and 40 per cent of men wished they had waited

Every western European country has its quota
of teenage mothers – but Britain leads the field. Sex does not
necessarily lead to pregnancy but while confident, aspirational
young people are more likely to avoid it, those who are
particularly emotionally vulnerable do not.

Last month, the Independent Advisory Group on
Teenage Pregnancy, part of the government’s strategy for halving
pregnancy rates among the under-18s by 2010, published its second
annual report. It recommends a confidential service in secondary
schools offering advice on relationships, sex and free
contraception; improved access to NHS abortions, and that personal
and social education should become a compulsory part of the
national curriculum.

In the Netherlands sex education isn’t a
one-shot inoculation confined to a few lessons. It’s an attitude
which says that sex isn’t “bad” but a normal (and exciting)
activity. At the same time, from primary school onwards, mutual
respect, an awareness of health issues and the importance of
contraception are also vital parts of the agenda.

In Britain, fewer than 15 per cent of males
cite commitment as the reason for having their first sexual
experience; in the Netherlands, 55 per cent of young men say they
had their first experience of sex because they were in love.

The political right have always preferred
ignorance and abstinence to sex education. Yet this attitude
affects most severely the socially deprived. Free contraception in
schools is vital but what’s also important is the exploration of
more innovatory ways to reach the third of young people at the
bottom of the social pile – those under 14 who already believe that
sex is a predatory act or that intercourse with a stranger is
better than no “love” at all.

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