Letter: Timely sex lessons

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Sir: The debate concerning teenage pregnancy appears to be focused on the need for appropriate sex education in schools, but ignores the fact that teenage pregnancy involves a much greater set of variables than simply education ("You're wrong, Mr Blunkett: sex education is essential", 3 September).

Having carried out research into the physiological, educational, social and economic conditions surrounding "young" teenage pregnancy (ie girls less than 16 years of age at conception) in Soweto, South Africa, and having compared my results with those from the USA and Europe, it is apparent to me that all such studies identify the need for a holistic approach to teenage pregnancy involving the school, the health services and the community.

Of paramount importance, however, is that any educational intervention must occur prior to the age at which the majority of girls (and boys) become sexually active. The average age of first menstruation in British girls is about 13 years and (self-reported) sexual activity begins to occur soon after this event.

However, 50 per cent of girls experience their first menstruation before this time, and some at an age as young as nine. The possibility of becoming pregnant through unprotected sex increases exponentially after first menstruation, yet the majority of educational systems do not appear to provide appropriate sex education until the mid- to late teenage years.

It must be time for the educational, health and community services to take a healthy dose of reality and ensure that not only the knowledge, but also the medical and social support is available to sexually active teenagers, at the appropriate time, to allow them the freedom to make an informed decision about unprotected sexual activity.


Department of Human Sciences

Loughborough University