Sex Under Sixteen?

Sexual activity amongst teenagers in Britain is becoming more and more widespread, or, as our authors put it, 'normative'. Perhaps a more realistic adjective would have been 'recreational'. Unsurprisingly, given such dangerous behaviour, Britain has the highest incidence of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe, with nearly 50,000 live births to women under twenty in 1998. Among these, nine out of ten are unmarried girls.

The report is quite straightforward in noting that the data do not suggest that sex education is very successful in delaying sexual activity or preventing pregnancy. A rethink is called for, emphasising the family context most appropriate for sexual activity. In other words, it is not sex education in principle which is wrong but the contingent message the present version carries and the people who are doing the job. However, given the high proportion of young people who say that, for them, sexual intercourse was a matter of 'getting carried away', often while drunk, it is questionable if even the best programmes of sex education are going to have much impact . Nor is the provision of contraception seen by the young people as a problem.

The report concludes that parental care and disc!pline can help a lot. Two parents are usually better than one. Indeed, one of the most striking findings of Dr Hill's research is that children who are sexually active are twice as likely to be from broken homes. Home can be more protective of children's interests. Parents can help as to what children watch on TV or read. Young people need to have emphasised to them that drugs and alcohol can lower resistance to temptation.

It is interesting that the report shows that the young people themselves are often so sensible. How else can we hope to reverse forty years of 'child-centred' nonsense about school and parenting and sexual 'expression', unless the younger generation themselves come to see how pernicious it all is?

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