spiked proposals: Teenage sex
Governments concerned about teenage sex and pregnancy should face the facts, and look for practical - not moral - solutions.
Governments concerned about teenage sex and pregnancy should do two things:
- Face the facts
The problem is unwanted teenage pregnancy – not teenage sex.
For most young people, teenage sex is a part of growing up that is neither dysfunctional nor damaging. The government needs to accept teenage sex as a fact of life and address how to allow young people to enjoy the fun of it – without the problems. Tony Blair’s comments, in his introduction to the Social Exclusion Unit report on teenage pregnancy, that ‘we shouldn’t condone their actions’, are unlikely to give young people confidence about seeking contraceptive advice.
Most young people are neither stupid nor helpless. The high rate of teenage pregnancy is not because young people are ignorant that sex leads to pregnancy. It is because some find contraceptive services difficult or embarrassing to access, and others are simply not motivated to use them.
There are some things that young people need to learn but cannot be taught. ‘Negotiating sex’ with a partner is one of these. No amount of research into sex education methods will alter this.
It is insulting to assume girls involved in sexual activity are responding to pressure from their peers or their boyfriends. Girls are not all victims. They are sexually curious, too.
Pregnancy is a problem for two distinct kinds of teenager.
The first kind of teenager wants to enjoy sex and definitely wants to avoid pregnancy. She needs:
Confidential, stigma-free contraceptive services. Using contraception needs to be encouraged, not something society accepts reluctantly.
Easy access to free, emergency contraception. Every sexually active woman, whatever her age, should be encouraged to keep a pack at home.
Easy access to free confidential abortion services.
The presentation of abortion as a moral, legitimate option.
The second kind of teenager is not strongly motivated to avoid pregnancy, and sees it as a positive option. She needs:
A greater number of genuine life options, to give her ambitions to be something other than a mother.
The financial and practical support to combine teenage motherhood with continued study.
The freedom to choose early motherhood free from stigma.
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