1. This week, Sarah Carter of the Family Education Trust caused a media storm when she told the Commons Education Select Committee that guidance from sexual health and advice service ‘Brook’ suggests that sex between 13-year-olds is normal. She was referring to the “Traffic Light Tool” a guide to age appropriate sexual activity, which has been developed to help ‘professionals’ gauge whether a child’s behaviour is healthy, or unhealthy.
2. Committee chairman Graham Stuart waded in, damning underage sex as “wrong”, “harmful”, “dangerous” and “damaging” and by the time the Daily Mail got wind of the whole thing, it was headline news.
3. Trouble is, one third of the population have already had sex before they reach the age of 16. Results from the latest National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL 2013) show that 31% of men and 29% of women had their first sexual experience before the age of 16.
4. Even so, the age of consent is clearly working because two thirds of people in Britain wait until they are over sixteen and this figure has changed very little over the past decade.
5. That’s a good thing because there is evidence that people who have sex at an earlier age wish that they had waited longer. In the previous NATSAL 200 study, two in five men and four in five women who were then in their late teens and early twenties, but who had first had sex at ages 13 and 14, wished that they had waited longer. Lets keep this in perspective though. Regret is unfortunate, but it is hardly a catastrophic consequence of premature sexual activity. On the contrary, it might even be interpreted as evidence of reflexivity and greater self awareness.
6. Results from the same study also showed that more young people were using condoms and contraception. Just 7% of males and 10 per cent of females aged 16-19 reported using no form of contraception at first intercourse .
7. Young women are also accessing family planning clincs. Between 2009 and 2010, 281,000 (21.5%) 16-19 girls and 71,000 (7.9%) girls aged under 16 attended UK family planning clinics.
8. Teenage pregnancy rates are the lowest they have been for over 40 years (ONS, 2013) yet we still have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe. Shockingly, just 21% of pregnancies in girls aged 16-19 are unplanned (NATSAL 2013), a statistic which illustrates the poverty of aspiration that afflicts girls who believe that their life choices are limited to state benefits.
9. Sex and relationships education (SRE) gets a lot of flack, but education is the most effective form of contraception that we have. In the 2003 BMRB International “Evaluation of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy”, 88% per cent of young people, and 86% of parents said they felt SRE helped young people be more responsible about sex. And three quarters of young people and two thirds of parents did not believe that sex education encourages young people to have sex too early.
10. Even more encouraging is the fact that 78% of parents surveyed by BMRB felt it was easy to talk to their child about sex and relationships. Mothers (82%) were more likely to say they would find it easy than fathers (72%) but if a parent wanted help in talking to their child about sex and relationships, 33% would probably turn to their GP, 12% would turn to their partner and 2% per cent would phone a helpline. After the media storm about the Traffic Light Tool, lets hope some of them would now turn to Brook too.